I've been thinking about numbers a lot lately. Specific numbers. Sobering numbers.
The worst of these numbers is 18,939.
That's the number of dollars I just gave my county government in return for the privilege of owning the real estate on which this fledgling farmstead is located. It would not be unreasonable to assume that this already cumbersome number will only get larger and more awkward in the future.
There a lot of reasons for the size of this number. It's based on residential rates in a rich school district for one thing, in a state with notoriously high property taxes. We moved here, instead of further out into the rural areas, mostly because of the schools. The teenager still needs a good education after all, no matter what craziness I get up to. That was non-negotiable.
I looked into getting agricultural assessments for the land, but even that would only lower the total a small fraction. We can blame the corn market for that.
It's sobering because, well, to put it mildly -- it all but precludes the possibility of quitting my day job.
The way I figure it, even if I were to pay off every dime of mortgage debt, grow every morsel of food that passed our lips or scrap of hay eaten by any animal on the place; even if I and the teenager were perpetually healthy and without the need for doctors or medicine; even if I forwent every form of insurance typically carried -- health, home, farm, car; even if I had no other expenses, I can't eliminate property tax. So any plan for downsizing the job, has to, at bare minimum, provide for enough income to pay the property tax.
In principle that shouldn't be a problem right? After all, farming is supposed to be an occupation, meaning it's supposed to be a way to make enough money to live on. Um, yeah, not this kind of farming apparently. Not here. Not in this state and this school district. No farmer's kids allowed in our district apparently. Not that the teenager really wants to be a farmer's kid. ;)
I know this isn't news to most people, but I wanted to do the actual math, so I could see just how big a gap I'm dealing with. I figured out how much of a variety of different possible farm products I would have to sell in order to cover the property taxes, before we even eat.
Um, like I said, impossible.
If I consider just Lincoln Longwool fiber, it would take 4735 ounces of curly locks a year at $4/oz to pay the taxman. That's 296 lbs, or 49 fleeces assuming each is 6 lbs after washing. That's 25 sheep sheared twiced each year. Just for the taxman. I have 2 Lincolns. Love 'em to death, but there's no way I could keep 25 on this little piece of land on top of everything else. And even if I had 25, I'm skeptical that there's a ready market for 4735 ounces of curls year in and year out. Hmmm. What about selling the fleeces in bulk? Say $20/lb for raw fleeces? Well, that's 60 sheep for the taxman. $10/lb? 120 lovely Lincolns. Oh, I'd be heaven in alright. Cause I'd be dead from the effort.
Bluefaced Leicesters have the same logic, except that they produce lighter fleeces, by about a half or maybe even a third. So multiply the number of sheep needed to feed the taxman by at least 2, maybe 3.
Now, the goats - the fancy Pygora fiber goats - have fleeces that go for more like $10-12 oz. That sounds much better, until you realize that they produce even less fiber than the BFL's and it has to be dehaired. That's expensive. Twenty-five goats sheared twice a year might pay the bill if I could process it myself. But then again, like the sheep, twenty-five goats is a lot of goats. There'd be no time or land left to feed ourselves.
Well, how about eggs? I love my chickens after all. I could sell the eggs by the dozen. Fancy, colorful, farm-raised, cage-free eggs - $3/doz. That's only 6313 dozen a year! That's only 75,757 eggs a year. A mere 207 eggs a day. Right. That, my friends, is about 400-450 birds, if you assume each lays 150-200 eggs a year -- and never eats anything themselves. That's a lot of hungry birds for the taxman.
Nope. No kill.
Breeding to sell to other fiber farms?
Rather not go there.
Value-added products would help, but they increase the workload as well. And believe me, if we had to rely on my spinning abilities to avoid the workhouse, we'd be out of luck pretty darn quick.
Grow corn or soy? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?
Hmmm. That might not be so bad, but I hear the machinery alone costs 100,000's of dollars.
I could get a part-time job doing something less disagreeable than my current day job. For the taxman. Let's see, at the current state minimum wage of $8.10/hr, I'd only have to work 2368 hours. But wait, that's 14 months full time. I'd be paying for last year, while the new year's bill racked up. Plus, that's full time. Might as well keep the current job, which pays a little better.
So, what's a wannabe farmer to do?
Only one option as far as I can tell.
Gonna have to move again.
After the teenager finishes school of course.