We need to talk about land.
Off and on over the last few years, I’ve searched for land in and around South Texas. My search has become more febrile this week, as I get more specific about what I want and where I want it to be. Although we’re not in the market for land in the immediate future. Girl has to dream, right?
I’ve used the main land sale sites: Lands of Texas, LandWatch, etc. After frustratingly checking the category of “farms and ranches” and continuing to get homes or empty lots not actually on farm land, but in HOA-restricted neighborhoods with pools, marinas, etc, I realized something. As I read through another promising-looking listing, I realized that “ranch” no longer means ranch. It means that it used to be a ranch, the family sold the land to a developer, and now it’s called Hot Springs Ranch or Cordillera Ranch. It’s not a fucking ranch, though. It’s a neighborhood with a pool and restrictions up the wazoo. Dear websites: stop allowing people to place whatever listings they want under farm and ranch. *Just because it has ranch in the name…sigh.*
If everyone wants their 3,000 square foot house and acre in the countryside, upon which they will put an acre of sod that requires thousands of gallons of uber-precious Texas water, where are the farmers supposed to, well, *farm?* Please understand that I’m not asking people to give up their dreams. If you want to live in a 3000 square foot house, then that’s your prerogative. I won’t grant you the acre of lawn because that’s my water too, and you’re wasting it. But I’ll grant you the house.
What frustrates me is that ranchland is disappearing. Rapidly. Farmers can get more for the land than they can to farm on it, and since most of them are likely in debt from decades of neglect and abuse from the well-meaning agricultural extension office, the not-so-well-meaning USDA and FDA – the only way to keep the farm is to sell the farm. Quite the conundrum. This wouldn’t be so much an issue if, say, football fields and baseball fields were being torn up to put in “country” subdivisions. But it’s arable land that is being used. The rich, loamy soils and wide-open pasture spaces are being dug up and parceled out. *This is where food comes from.* Food for you, food for me. If you want to live on even a small piece of unrestricted land within an hours’ drive of a big city, you better believe that suburbia has beat you to it already.
It makes me sad and scares me. If we keep sprawling, where will our food be grown?
I know I’m going to have to get clever. Suburban gardening and farming. Somehow. At a minimum, renting someone else’s land from them. The trick is finding a place that doesn’t have the long arm of an HOA dangling over the vast Hill Country skies. Joel Salatin speaks often of the importance of being close to your customer base. Having 1 acre near the city for 75k is better than 10 acres out in the country for 75k. I hear him on that; I want to be close enough to city humans who have deep pockets and liberal guilt (I mean that lovingly) enough to want homegrown veg and pastured beef. But unlike Virginia, where Salatin lives and where farms are spread far and wide around the Shenandoah Valley, South Texas has been eaten up by developers. I can certainly find 1 acre near San Antonio, even for less than 75k, but not outside of a neighborhood with restrictions. That means you can get one parcel for 20k, and then you’re required to put a 2200+ square foot house on it (that would likely cost 150k-250k more). And then you wouldn’t be allowed to do anything but put down a lawn. Soul-less living, I say. Same house repeated 800 times, a lawn no one has time to care for, and no front porches for socializing. I’m not knocking suburbia (which has kindly housed me 95% of my life, and currently) when it’s actually still attached to a city. But an hour out? COME ON. That’s farm land.
Is this specific to South Texas? The widespread HOA-thing? I know HOAs exist most places but seriously, do a quick search for parcels of land in Texas and you’ll see what I mean. I’m all for keeping the neighbors from setting up a used car lot in the lawn. But what about growing food or having a few chickens for eggs? Where do the farmers go?
But I know this to be true: start where you are. Difficult immediately because of our itinerary being up in the air. But I should plant some herbs in a tomato tin or something.