That really long post explaining our wait for a house, just in case you’re curious.
One summer I discovered that I wanted to marry a farmer.
As a BC-born girl (but Saskatchewan-raised) I didn’t know much about farming until I went to camp where I made lots of friends whose families farmed. I took interest. I thought, “I live in Saskatchewan; how is it that I know so little about farming?”. My curiosity became a bit of a joke, as they would teach me and quiz me, and bring me copies of The Western Producer. Sometimes on weekends we’d leave camp and all go to another staff member’s house - which was always on a farm. I loooved it. I loved the closeness to nature. The retreat from the rest of the world. I loved the rustic beauty of old fence posts and barbed wire, of dugouts and barn wood. I was sold. And I thought “Boy, I’d love to marry a farmer and live in the country one day.” I figured I was a good candidate. I’m no extrovert, so I could handle being a bit removed from social contact. And I didn’t grow up with piles of money, so I could handle the need to be frugal. And I don’t mind getting dirty. And I don’t mind the smell of farms (that is, cow poop thawing in the spring time). I could totally do it.
In my university years I met a nice young man through church. That’s a whole wonderful story unto itself. But let me just say, I was quite delighted to learn he was a farm boy. His family farmed just outside the city. As we got to know each other in a dating-sort-of-way, though, I was disappointed to hear he did not plan to farm. Boo. Ah well… he was still amazing, and gorgeous, and kind, and perfect. So I married him anyways. ;)
But as life ran its course, and he switched his university major/career plans a kajillion times, he started to come around. He realized he was happiest when sitting in the combine. Farming was a joy. He knew he had lots to learn (since he’d bucked the idea of farming in his earlier days), but that ultimately he wanted to farm if we could make it work. He asked me how I felt about that. Fo shizzle.
The plan was for Sean begin farming with his dad and enter into a business partnership, while still working during the winter and mid-summer months at another job until he could viably farm full-time. This worked swimmingly as he got a job doing agricultural accounting at a firm in the city. And because they valued his farm knowledge (and because he has an awesome boss) they allowed him to take off work during seeding and harvest.
As a wonderful bi-product of the decision to enter farming we needed to figure out just how we could live out at the farm.
And so, our journey of “house dreaming” began.
His parents had built an RTM - a “Ready to Move” home. This kind of house is built in a central factory and shipped to its location where it’s put in place. These are common in the prairies, as rural site builds can be expensive. Also, it means (usually) that your house is built more economically (they have all the supplies on site), faster (they have regular employees to build it, as opposed to waiting for this contractor and that), and often in a more controlled environment (i.e. if it’s built in a factory your unfinished house doesn’t endure the wind, rain, and snow of a site build). We figured this was likely the best way to go.
Over the years we’ve seriously considered a few house plans, but have been stuck on one for almost two years now. It’s a Cape Cod with dormers in the attic, a wraparound veranda, plenty of windows… and it’s lovely. It’s actually called a “modular home” - it is built in several pieces which are assembled on site using a crane. Here are some pictures of a modular home being assembled. (Not our model or home builder. These are from Country Living.)
(Ours would come in a back and front piece, with an attic on top and a veranda built on site)
Great plan! So… what’s the hold-up, right?
We want to build our house on Sean’s family farm. We decided we could go one of two routes:
1. Subdivide a small parcel (5 acres) of his parent’s quarter section (160 acres) that their house is on. This would mean that the land we build on would be in our name. Or…
2. Apply for a Secondary Agricultural Residence. This means the land the house is on still belongs to Sean’s dad. The intention is that a Secondary Agricultural Residence (SAR) is for a farm employee or partner.
To do this we need to go through the local government. (While towns and cities have councils and mayors, rural areas have a council and a reeve who oversee a large rural area with its farms and small townships. This is called a Rural Municipality [RM]. So just like a person building a house in the city would need a building permit, we need permission to subdivide the land or build on the land even though the land is owned by Sean’s dad.)
So, a few years ago, with the intention that Sean begin working for/with his dad on the farm (especially as his grandpa gets older), we sought to get permission to build. And thus the RM became my arch nemesis.
They told us at the meeting that we should not apply for the SAR, because they didn’t like doing that, and it got tricky when difficult family situations arose (because the land is not in our name) such as feuds or divorces. Well, we’re pretty certain that’s not going to happen, but we liked that they recommended subdividing because that’s ultimately what we wanted.
So we applied to subdivide.
And we were rejected.
You see, the quarter section we planned to subdivide is actually not a full quarter. There are a variety of things that cut into the land: some roads, a railroad, a nearby town, and an old schoolhouse. But, to prevent farm land from being overdeveloped (i.e. you can’t build a condo complex on it…) the RM has a bylaw stating that any subdivision of land must leave a certain number of acres in the remaining quarter. We were less than 9 acres short. And so, even though the “development” on the quarter was not done by Sean’s dad, they stuck to the letter of the law and said a subdivision could not happen. The end.
So, prepare yourself for round two.
(Now I should note that all dealings with the RM have had to take place in the non-busy seasons: after seeding and after harvest, which drags out the process immensely. Especially since in the last few years seeding and harvest have gone very long with poor weather.)
In “round two” we decided to go back to our original approach - building a Secondary Agricultural Residence. By this time a few things had changed with the RM, and they now had a “planner” - an unelected official whose job is to oversee all development in the RM. Over the winter months we applied for a SAR and soon discovered that the planner had no interest in giving us the time of day. He was way too busy (actually working for two different RMs), didn’t understand farming, and was really there to develop the local towns. After months of the run-around (including a few lies) he finally gave us a decision. No. Because Sean worked in the city that must mean he’s not really a farmer, or farm employee.
Are. you. freaking. kidding me.
He did not ask to see any farm books or business plans. He did not even know what Sean’s other job was, or how it worked. He did not pay any attention to the fact that many farmers (especially the young ones) need to have two jobs to farm. And while the first decision (regarding subdivision) was exactly according to the bylaws, this one left an awful lot of room for interpretation. I scoured every bylaw document I could find, and there were no legal grounds for this decision. And with one flippant decision our life plans were sent askew again.
By this point I was quite pregnant and we were renting a one-bedroom apartment in the city. We knew we had to shift our focus for a little while. We bought an affordable two-bedroom condo close to friends and our church, and renovated it the month before Little M was due. That was over a year ago now.
The dream is not dead, however. Sean and his dad have worked out a business partnership and have begun to work together on the farm. And there are options of how we can proceed in pursuing the dream of a house. And hopefully this winter we’ll try another approach and receive permission to build. The thing is, there’s not a lot I can personally do about it. I can wait, and pray, and seek out what the Lord is teaching me on this journey.
There’s a lot of frustrating and sad things. Like, how much housing prices have changed since the time we first sought to build. What a house cost then, and what it costs now are vastly different. There’s the anger of dealing with people (the RM) who are making major decisions affecting your life, and do so without much care or logic. There’s the difficulty of talking about this with people for years, and still not doing what we said we were going to do. While other people our age are buying and building they’re wondering what we’re waiting for, and honestly, it’s hard to continually squash that twinge of jealousy.
Even more, though, there’s the longing for a home. A place to raise our family. The desire to have room for more children. The hope of having a place to invite people in.
But as hard as it’s been (and as hard as it is to say this) the journey has been good, too. It has taught us patience. It has grown and matured us. It has caused us to evaluate what really matters: our faith, and our marriage and our family - which can thrive no matter where we live. And it’s teaching us to take delight in what we do have, and enjoy the time of life we’re in. We know that the fact we own our condo is a huge blessing - more than many people could dream of. We’ve seen how God has placed us in the right place for the right time. I think in the end we will be far more grateful when we do have that house. And I think we will benefit from a few years of planning and thinking about how we really want it to be.
So there. That’s the story. If you made it through this whole post I am incredibly impressed. Hopefully, if you follow this blog long enough, one day you’ll see a post or two about the day we get our house!