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Size Matters: How Many Acres?

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“Quantity has a quality all its own.”

~ often attributed to Stalin, 1945

quality vs quantity

A fundamental consideration is always cost. More acres typically cost more money to acquire or more money to develop into useful space for living, working, and enjoying life. Generally speaking, having more land is better, location is always critical to economic success, and if one community is good, several communities are better.

One of our goals is to avoid pigeonholing – restricting ourselves to some particular strategy based upon preconceived notions of what makes an “optimal living arrangement.” In addition to determining the geographical features of an optimal site to establish a resilient community, we need to consider configuration of land, lease type and lease duration, and the implicit/explicit arrangements that can exist among the lease holders.

Minimal Agricultural Requirements
Different sources will provide a number from 1 acre to 2 acres to support one person. Intensive horticulture and aquaculture with considerable use of three dimensions have indicated that one acre may feed several people. (For example, a project in Milwaukee currently feeds 10,000 people with 3 acres.) We don’t believe that the occupants of our land will attempt complete subsistence farming – though it is possible that communities, working together, can exchange enough food to avoid much or most of the food-system as it currently exists.

Some of our resilient communities will focus on “professional or technology incubation”, and will tend to attract residents interested in forming technology companies, based on the resilient model. In these cases, perhaps some minimal land is reserved, in common, for mutual farming or other activities. Each lease holder would be free to use their land, as they wish.
Some of our communities may specialize in organic farming and traditional livestock raising. In these cases, larger swaths of land are leased, and these are managed per a farming plan – developed by the leaseholder.

So, it is difficult or impossible to specify “minimum land” for farming, especially if the community in question is focused on technology or other services. It is, however, important for the founders of any community to have this conversation – how much land should be reserved for agricultural work? If some minimal amount of farming land is decided, who is responsible for holding that lease? It seems to us that multiple families could hold a common lease, for land intended to produce food. In keeping with our philosophy, we do not specify precise steps that must be taken. This subject is, well, squishier than most – food. At Resilient Ways Foundation we are “preppers” in the sense that we believe in preparation, because life, in general, throws us curve-balls.

Our interest in broaching the subject of “how much farm land” is to illustrate that there is no good answer – but there are conversations. This factor provides plenty of reasons to research a region, in depth, prior to selecting property. Soil types, previous use of the area for dumping toxic chemicals, annual rainfall, biome, and many other factors relate to what grows well in a particular place.

Knowing the agricultural “finger print” of a region, will help in deciding how much, if any, land is set aside for food, subsistence. If you are a tech-company, and want to establish yourself, your HQ, in a rural setting, and that setting already has a healthy food system? – then you might decide to set aside very little for farming. On the other hand, we can imagine a tech company also having a vineyard – and the vineyard becomes not simply an additional source of income, but potentially a source of inspiration and allegiance within a workforce. Many professionals are looking for a “break” from the technology grind – what limits are there, really, on where their work needs to be? Couldn’t a bunch of professionals decide to form their own resilient community? They need not work for the same firm, they would simply live next to each other, a place where ideas can be shared – along with walks in the country.

Land Parcel Types:

  1. 0.5 Acre Land-Habitation
  2. 1 Acre Land-Habitation
  3. Shared border land – common farming, timber boundary
  4. Shared road, power, communications
  5. 1 acre low-intensity business
  6. 1 acre high-intensity business
  7. 10 Acre Organic Farming Lease
  8. 20 Acre Organic Farming Lease
  9. 50 Acre Organic Farming Lease
  10. 100 Acre Organic Farming Lease

Lease Types (this topic has an entire section reserved)
The subject of land leases, their relationship to Heathian Anarchism, and the Resilient Ways Foundation, will be discussed in great depth in its own section. However, it is worth noting that a one-size fits-all approach to parceling or leasing is unlikely to work.

We are assuming for our first projects to use 99 year leases for habitation and farming, whereas low-intensity business might have a 10 year renewable lease, and high-intensity business would have a 5 year lease (or less, depending upon the criteria used for “high” and “low” intensity.
Low intensity business activities: activities that only result in a multiplier of standard forms of pollution a person would find associated with a habitation or home. The wastes, materials, externalities and their respective costs are managed by the leaseholder. The Resilient Ways Foundation (assuming we are the property holder for the community in question) would have the right and obligation to review leases as they near their termination or prior to their being made available, as a product, on our website. This document describes, generally, how anyone would do this – so for purposes of this discussion, the property holder is assumed to be the Resilient Ways Foundation. But, other foundations can be established, utilizing the same shared techniques.

Property Configurations
A) B&B/Hunting Lodge/Fishing Lodge:
This is the basic property configuration. The idea here is to target a dual use property – a property that can be partitioned for a few families (up to 10), and have additional property set aside for a hunting lodge or B&B, and possibly archery ranges, nature observation areas, and a small agora or market.

As a practical example, our organization has been scouting improved/unimproved lots in Hocking and Perry counties (Ohio) – looking at sections of property around 20 acres in size, up to 50 acres.

With 20-50 acres, in the right setting, you could easily have:

  1. 10 x 0.5 acre habitations
  2. 1-3 acres set aside for a 1 or 2 lane archery/rifle range. (having a rifle range of sufficient distance, on site, could be very attractive to hunters who want to sight in their rifles prior to going out – this is terrain/area dependent)
  3. 10 x 0.5 acre camping and cabin spaces. Cabin spaces could be set up using yurts, Airstream(tm) campers, gypsy wagons, small profile tiny cabins (prices between $5,000.00 and $10,000.00 respectfully), and a portion left undeveloped except for RV parking spot, fire pit. Multi-night use areas.
  4. 1 x acre plot set up for community area and small agora (market).
  5. 5 x acres set aside for access roads, trails, as terrain and situation permits.
  6. 5-10 x acres set aside for green zones that separate habitations (providing some privacy) and allow for nature observation.
  7. 5-10 x acres, near to the agora, for the community gardens (if that is decided).

As with this document, and our philosophy, we do not claim to know the perfect/ideal configuration for your scenario – that will depend greatly on the region and land available.

If you are setting up a lodge near a large body of water – lake, river or ocean – you might consider setting aside space for boat trailers. It might also make more sense to set up the individual rent parcels (cabins) with space for parking a boat trailer. It is often a good idea to park boat trailers in a space/area separate from where people are living – but within the security of the property itself.

B) Theme park, local market (agora):
The theme park scenario is where you host a community, but you also have a significant economic entity that is partially (or mostly) supporting the community. “Silver Dollar City” (Branson) or “Dollywood” (Pigeon Forge) or any number of other examples exist of rural communities using a theme-park to generate revenue. These are challenging times, economically, but it would be fair to say that the “stay-cation” is more popular than ever – so marketing this kind of experience in today’s business climate makes sense.

There are any number of themes that can be used for this: steam-punk, science fiction, historical. A big part of picking the right theme involves, as with other parts of this problem, researching the area – determining the historical makeup, flavor, culture of the area. It is far better to partially or totally base your theming on locality than completely separate from location. On the other hand, if you are doing a science fiction or Steam Punk based theme park, it might be better to incorporate local flavor – while the central theme remains separate.
This is not the right place for discussions of market analysis.

How you go about picking a theme or central motive for your theme park is going to be dependent on:

  1. Region, area, culture, history, within which the park will be established. Special consideration to diminished or marginalized local cultures – one should seek consultation with local native American reservations, if this is applicable.
  2. The prominent nearby urban centers (nearby meaning within 50-200 miles).
  3. What is economically feasible – setting up theme parks can have huge upfront costs.
  4. What skills do the local population possess.
  5. Setting up the venue for festivals – medieval, renaissance, SyFy mini-conventions or groups, etc. This means setting aside spaces, adjacent to common agora/market spaces, that would allow for the festivals/groups to set up their own stages and public area.

There is much that goes into setting up a community with the economic direction of “theme park” – remembering that this is a community, with permanent residents.

With respect to festivals/groups renting out the entire community? – this is potentially a great source of income, but also a really good reason for sound planning around parking/open-spaces. If managed correctly, open spaces can have many uses – certainly the community agora could be set up to allow for festival use (partial or total).

C) Organic farming Co-op:
It doesn’t make sense to set minimums for situations that vary, significantly. However, for purposes of planning, it does make sense to assume that the smallest leasable parcel, within an organic farming co-op, is between 5 and 10 acres. Parcel sizes (as listed above) for farming leases, don’t make a lot of sense < 10 acres. How many acres a resident chooses to lease, for farming, will be a function of: a) what can grow there, b) how many crops a year, c) what kind of soil recovery issues exist – do you need to rotate crops (most likely – yes). So, 10 acres seems like a good minimum size lease parcel.

The other questions with the organic farming co-op:

  1. how many permanent residents?
  2. Will this be a hybrid community – will you also host or offer lodging, make B&B or rental cabins available?
  3. Are you considering doing this as agro-education – setting up a B&B, classes, to teach others how to organically farm? Would this make this type of configuration more like a “theme park”?
  4. Does the land in question have sufficient water to support farming?
  5. Is the drainage of the land supportive of farming?
  6. Soil conditions are critical, what are they?

A hypothetical configuration for an organic farming co-op (1,000 acres in size):

  1. 60 x 0.5 acre habitation parcels (30 acres)
  2. 10 acres for common agora, market (possibly open to outer community)
  3. 10 acres for common multi-use areas
  4. 10 acres for a community farm
  5. 100 acres set aside for roads, trails, access and logistical community design for organic farming – this includes making parcels accessible.
  6. 700 acres divided into 10, 20, 50, 100 acre leasable parcels
  7. 140 acres (approximately) reserved for other planning and mutual logistics needs

As with the theme park configuration, one ought not to provide too much formal definition of what this kind of community would look like. Because it involves growing food, there are a myriad of considerations – and these are critical when researching properties to buy for this purpose.

There are huge differences in the requirements to raise livestock vs crops – and the variations persist within each subgroup, some animals, and crops, require more attention/effort/resources than others.

A community may desire to have its market open to people outside the community – on a rental basis, or as a means to build social capital. Having a marketplace that members of the outer community can participate in, whatever the “gate cost” might be, can be another great way of building strength of relationships within the community.

D) Professional Rural Co-op:
The professional rural Co-op is a property configuration emphasizing living, and workforce space/infrastructure, to support one or many technical professionals. Some of the important considerations for this kind of configuration are: access to high-speed Internet, electricity, location vis-a-vis regional airports and other transportation hubs. A rural co-op could easily act as a hosting-venue for workshops, training, and out-of-town business retreats.

Professional Rural Co-ops are communities designed to facilitate work, entrepreneurship, as incubators OR remote-work environments for virtual companies. Much if not most of high tech knowledge work can be done from anywhere, as long as there is power and access to the WWW in some secure form.

A professional co-op, set up for many remote workers (and perhaps one or two small tech firms < 10 employees per) might have the following structure (100 acres):

  1. 100 x 0.5 acre plots for permanent residents (50 acres)
  2. 10 acres of common area – potentially shared buildings for meetings, computer labs, training events. This can be done by coordinated individual leases OR as part of the establishment of the community. A knowledge-worker or tech community might value a shared common space – that has a small group hall, professional break-out rooms, small office spaces for quiet work. The assumption is that many, if not most, will use their primary residence as their primary workplace.
  3. 10 acres of land consumed by roads, trails, access, logistics
  4. 10 acres used to create green-zone privacy areas between habitations
  5. 20 acres reserved for other uses, to include: shared gardens, shared swimming pool, other exercise or well-being related structures

The professional co-op whether established singly, by one particular incubator or company, or if it is really just a “tech colony”, has special requirements separate from the other types of communities described, to reiterate and enumerate:

  1. Broadband that is safe, secure, and reasonably priced.
  2. Access to reliable sources of electricity – whether sourced via solar/wind and local power generation in the community OR via an external utility.
  3. Reasonable distance from (50-100 miles on the outside) a functional airport (not a necessity, but rather a “nice to have”).

E) Mobile/Nomad Community:
The concept of the “mobile” community is the following (and arguably outside the scope of a conventional interpretation of Heathian anarchism): pick a mode of transportation – boat, RV, motorcycles, back-pack, or even community owned ship (cruise ship) – and a means of establishing small scale communities via renting, leasing, mooring, unimproved land purchases, national parks.

The idea behind this community is to establish a group that is not tied to any particular piece of land, but rather tied to a mode of transportation. The strength of this kind of community is that it is, by its nature, flexible. The weakness is that, without title of land, your community is basically a nomad community.

One way to do this, and be less “nomad”, would be to purchase some parcel of land near the mode of transport that can be used as a home base or community rally point.

The scenario of interest for me is the “sailing fleet” – basically like a boating club, but the boaters live permanently on their boats, and they move from marina (or other anchorage) to marina. This requires planning, scheduling. In one scenario, the members of this kind of community could find an old marina, or a beach, and use this as home port. The beach works, especially if you are using “trailer sailors” like the West-Wight Potter 19 foot sail boats – these are very easy to pull in and out of the water, very durable, capable of ocean going (and affordable, though too small for families of more than 2-3).

We added this last scenario, not because we believe it would be the primary choice for a community, but because, in these times, people could find themselves “nomadic” but alone. If, on the other hand, the “nomads” form voluntary “travel clubs”, then this can be one way for a community to “skirt the grid” vs staying completely off the grid.

This type of community might not lend itself to Heathian anarchism, but who are we to pre-judge human arrangements?

As you can see from this discussion [A-E], a major factor in the configuration of any voluntary community has to do with the kinds of people that will comprise it. Not everyone wants to be a farmer – some techies just want to live “in nature”, but live a relatively modern and convenient life. Some people are looking for an extremely “off the grid” existence, while others might simply be organic farmers wanting to work with others in a different kind of setting. It is unlikely that any one community would match all anarchists – let alone all people – but it is very likely that if many thousands of these micro-communities are established, that there would be one for everyone.

A note on housing: there is a special section of this document for the discussion of shelters/housing and their design. However, we would like to point out that NOTHING in heathian anarchism forbids the construction of multi-family housing. There is no reason, if it makes sense, that a community couldn’t choose to conserve space by creating housing designed for many inhabitants – like condos or apartments. The lease property sizes, which should be left flexible, could accommodate a 99 year lease for 5 acres that could be used to build this kind of housing. The key issue is the following: is the resident a stakeholder? Does the resident have “skin in the game”? Though we can postulate multi-family housing, we do not believe in a “land lord” model – so any multi-family home/lease would need to be managed by those living on the property. More on this later (see the section on “Shelters”).

Scouting Land
Looking for land you can use involves scouting – researching the region on the WWW, contacting locals, contacting people in the area that you know personally, looking at water flow, land features, soil conditions, property usage, and the general regulatory environment (remember: as anarchists we want to avoid interactions with government as much as is possible).
When scouting, and interacting with sellers/agents, it can be helpful to have a checklist. The checklist can keep you focused, and ensure that you have a record of your interaction – and materials to compare/think-about once you’re done looking at the land.

Here is an example checklist (in no particular order, this is an example):

*** our opinion, but we think some professional interrogators would back us up: you can ask questions in a systematic order, but this allows a potential deceptive person to follow a script. We think it is better to follow a checklist, but to vary the order of questions – which means don’t ask every question about water in the same breath, break-up questions between different subject areas. Others might contend that organizing this checklist around features/themes is more helpful. Frankly, your well-written checklist will probably have at least 10 to 15 standard questions for research, but it could be as many as 50 questions. Too many questions and you run the risk of intimidating the seller or agent. Finally, you need to ask these questions as naturally as possible – which means you should research and understand the “question” before asking it. Often people will follow a checklist (or example) without putting in the necessary time to know what “lay of the land” or topography refers to. Don’t ask a question you can’t explain in several different ways – which means: don’t ask a question you don’t understand yourself!

Review for: Phil’s Farm and RV Park

Item #

Review Item

Answer

Additional Notes

1

Does your land have natural water sources? If so, what kinds: spring, flowing water, aquifer/well system?

– aquifer fed spring

The spring waters, supposedly, have healing properties. At one time the water was bottled, sold. The owner claims 60K gallons of the spring water are produced each day. This is a potentially interesting source of revenue for the community – just need to find a family/person to take ownership, form a business, and join the community. I wonder if Tim would be interested? – his family is thinking of moving.

2

What kind of mobile/cell networks do the locals use?

People mostly use ATT

I have an ATT plan and only 1 bar showed up*

3

Does the land have its own septic? When was the last time it was checked?

Yes, last checked in April of 2014

He (the seller) volunteered

4

How is solid waste, garbage, managed? (in many rural locations the answer is: you truck it yourself to the landfill)

Solid waste is managed by the property owner – trucks it to the landfill.

This is good – there is no mandatory

5

Who provides internet broadband in your area? (the answer might be “satellite” in many cases)

Satellite – Hughes aerospace

This is probably ok, but we don’t know if we’d want to use Huges (MIC). We are experimenting with an independent open-source provider that uses mesh-net and weather balloons to extend broadband to rural areas – outside standard ISP.

6

Can I have a map representing the latest survey of the property borders?

No

He said he would send us a PDF email, via the agent, within a few days.

7

If it is sold as a business (not as land), may I see the last 6 quarters of revenue and costs?

Yes

They will send us summarized revenue/cost for the past 2 years.

8

If sold as a business, would you be open to seller-financing? (this is where the seller manages their tax burden from the sale and receives smaller payments over a time period versus one lump sum payment)

No

They want their money now. They are very old. The asking price is steep ($700,000), but it still might be worth it.

9

With respect to water sources, when was the last time testing was done and what were the results?

Well water is tested weekly, springs are tested annually

Because of the regulations governing an “RV Park”, they are required to test water marked as “potable”. I tried both the spring water and the well water – obviously not scientific, but a good thing to do. The water tasted fine, the spring water was especially cool, almost ice cold (it’s late August, very hot out).

10

What kind of neighbors do you have? Any industrial activities? Any intensive industrial scale agriculture nearby?

Yes, farming. No other industrial activities nearby.

They have on their eastern and southern borders 2 modern farms. They claim that the water flow/land-topography prevents toxins from these farms from impacting water quality. Also claims that the “spraying” rarely blows onto the land. This is worth a conversation with the neighbors, if they are available/can be reached.

11

What are the property taxes?

Very low, $1,156.88 was what they paid last year.

This seems like a very low property tax burden.

12

How does the land lay, topography, and are there flooding issues?

No flooding since they owned

He and his wife had owned the land for 30 years, there have been floods in the past – but none in the last 30 years. Excellent drainage. The site is on higher ground relative to its property boundaries. 40% of the property is part of a hill.

13

Why are you selling?

Age/effort

They have no children interested in managing the property. They care about the old roller rink, but they are too old to manage the property any longer.

14

(applies to improved properties) Could you provide me with a list of structures, on your property and the last time they were inspected for pests, mold, dry-rot and other structural damage?

1) Church

2) RV Park with hookups

3) Storage shed

4) Old-style roller rink

5) 4 basic cabins

6) One large shared building – no heat or AC

7) 1 x 4 bedroom home

a) He mentioned that the RV park was last checked by him. All the electrical and sewage hookups are fine.

b) the roller rink is interesting – one of the oldest in the country. It has a ceiling they put in, during the 1970’s

c) no recent pest or structural inspections, but we looked at the structures, there did appear to be some dry rot, and some evidence of pests.

*** this is an older couple running the park, and I believe much of the state of the property can be explained by this. Which means, I think, that the cost of improving/fixing delinquent issues might be small. We will definitely need to hire a building/home inspector to take a look at these structures.

15

How many total acres? Can we walk the perimeter?

Seller confirms a total of 50 acres, but they are selling as a business.

This is a question I ask because it tests the seller/agent’s knowledge of the land. Ultimately, you will get a land profile from most online real estate sites, and county records, however, it can be good to test the knowledge of the seller and to survey the perimeter of their property.

16

What kinds of zoning restrictions exist on your property, if any? Are there any notable restrictions on use of land?

None

It’s hard to believe “no restrictions” – so worth further investigation, but it does look like the region is more individualist and respectful of property rights than many other regions we’re looking at.

17

Is the property in a county or area that restricts alcohol consumption?

No

This is important – not because we’re heavy drinkers, but because we want to have the site support conferences, and to be a full-venue for weddings, etc. We would like to set up an old-style country public house (or pub) on the site, and restrictions on alcohol would certainly be an issue.

18

The nearest landfill solid waste, recycling, collection point?

20 miles away

This is mainly good – good that it’s that far away, but within driving distance for drop offs. There are no pick-ups available – although some farmers will make a little extra money doing pick-ups for their neighbors. I don’t know if this would be a core part of our resilient communities, but recycling and re-purposing materials is huge.

As you can see, the questions/topics in this checklist are not in a particular order – you can choose to organize your checklist in whatever fashion makes sense. Keep in mind, this kind of information has “competitive advantage” – many people can’t afford to do thorough, in-person, on-site scoutings. One thing to consider: is there a business opportunity in scouting out and indexing these types of properties?

It is not possible to have a single method for scouting, but here’s some advice:

  1. Cameras – take pictures. Bring along a notebook. If you have a printed map of the property, as you explore the property, make notes on the map.
  2. If it’s a business and being sold as a business (and not as the property/land), make sure to ask about: revenue, costs of maintenance, major construction. You need to know what kind of business you are buying.
  3. Walk the property – bring boots. Don’t be afraid to go everywhere – and you need to be prepared to hike on unimproved terrain. This means research local flora/fauna and be aware of any risks, especially if you have allergic reactions.
  4. Ask about water, power, sewage. Don’t be shy! If there are natural sources of water, wells, springs, ask about testing – when were the last tests done, what were the results and could you see the results?
  5. Research local culture, interests, history. You need to like the “flavor” of an area if you are going to found a like-minded community there.
  6. Look at how the county voted – these days, both GOP and Democrats tend to be “busy bodies”, but knowing the kind of busy-body can be helpful.
  7. If you have time, contact and meet with the local sheriff.
  8. Find out what kind of mobile providers most members of the wider community use. Ask them, the land owners and agents, about internet access, broadband, etc.
  9. If it is improved land, make sure to take a good look at the foundations, the walls and roofs. Ask about leaks, and maintenance that’s been done.

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