COVID-19 has been impacting us all for over a year now, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that parts of our lives have gotten any easier.
In January of 2020, I closed on 17 acres of farmland near Gainesville, Florida. Prior to that, I was living on a commercial scale grain and livestock farm in Iowa with my then-boyfriend. When we broke up, I was going back and forth between Iowa and Florida to buy my property and start over.
Gainesville is a great area with lovely weather. I have friends here, and the University of Florida, the state Farm Bureau office, and the state FFA headquarters are all in my local community. My county is very agriculture friendly, so when I purchased my land, I felt comfortable and confident I’d be able to start my own livestock farm from scratch. The first thing I did around the property was build a “no climb” perimeter fence, which is perfect for livestock.
Going through a breakup was tough (my boyfriend and I had been together for almost eight years). But beyond the relationship, things were good. Especially in the first months of 2020, my career was great – I was traveling internationally and speaking at conferences. I was also writing and being an online influencer, with big goals of starting my beautiful dream farm.
Insert global pandemic.
It was horrible. Like it was for so many, and still is.
I had been working with a builder on building my dream home. I had designed it in my head, and he was amazing at putting it all together. I had “heard” banks were lowering interest rates and that I’d be able to get a good deal on financing for it.
My reality, however, was that the financing opportunities were a myth. All of a sudden, I couldn’t get all the financing I needed … not for new construction, anyway. There’s a different between a regular mortgage and a new construction loan: With a mortgage on an existing home, if things go belly up, the bank can seize your house. With new construction, however, the bank has nothing to take, so the process is a lot stricter. Partner this with the fact that I was watching my career crumble and watch my speaking engagements drop like flies, and it was the perfect disaster.
In a very short time, the entire banking industry changed. The entire construction business changed. My career and income dropped 90 percent. I went from being on a plane every other day for a speaking gig, feeling like life was in fifth gear, to being in park.
My life seemingly did a complete 180.
Since I didn’t yet have a home and people were quarantined, I stayed in Iowa for a while until things started settling down and I was able to get back to Florida.
I went back to my builder to start over and build a smaller home, a “barndominium” if you will. But it didn’t matter. The price of building materials went through the roof (pun intended.) It was nearly impossible to get some materials or supplies, and the things that were available were expensive. Lumber prices doubled or even tripled. My plans were changing once again.
A discouraging sense of sadness set in, and I realized I needed to get out of the house, travel and be with friends to seek support and happiness again. So last summer I went on a couple road trips and visited friends — from Florida to Pennsylvania to Michigan and everywhere in between.
It was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I met Chris. We met through mutual friends on a boat, and he is now my boyfriend (“officially” since October). Who knew this would happen? I certainly wasn’t looking for this, but love works in mysterious ways sometimes, and God always has a plan for you.
So now I find myself in a long-distance relationship, going back and forth between Florida and Michigan.
Well now, this makes it hard to start a new farm, doesn’t it? Ha! Still, I work to make my dream a reality with what I can do, infrastructure wise. I’m currently shopping around to build more fencing. But wow! Prices are through the roof these days — it’s insane! So for now I’m building an “estate gate” — a pretty new entrance with added security and a gate code to get going.
My property is absolutely beautiful, and I’m currently staying in a luxurious new fifth-wheel camper while I go back and forth to Michigan and try to figure out what I’m going to do. But life takes its twists and turns sometimes, and God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle, right? One day at a time.
Gainesville is an area packed with agricultural experts eager to help me, and for that I’m very grateful. We’ve decided it might be best to lease out the property or hire people to partner with me and help, because I certainly can’t do this alone. I had a local woman come out the other day who’s seeking additional farmland for her horses, so something like that could be amazing! I could still be on my farm and help when I’m in town but also have the ability to be flexible with my work and travel schedule. I could also utilize word of mouth groups, network locally, or use a website to connect this farmland owner with a potential farmer tenant.
I’ll figure it out. But in the meantime, to say that my life is insane right now is an understatement. The good news is that nothing about my career will change — I’m still the same agricultural enthusiast and advocate I’ve always been, it’s just that now my world is exposed to hundreds of new commodities that I didn’t have the opportunity to experience in Iowa. Both Florida and Michigan are very diverse agricultural states. So it’s fun!
In the meantime, this is what I’ve been up to and time will tell how it all unfolds.
Is it time to write a book yet? Ha! I’ll keep y’all posted.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is a farmer, public speaker and writer who has worked for years with row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.