Moving the Farm

By Geoffrey and Barbara Gould


The article we have been writing since May of l999 has evaporated in a moment, as more important aspects of moving a farm, any farm, take precedence. We had been in Arizona for more than 26 years, at first one of 13 people in an area of unspoiled desert, some 10 miles by 15 miles. No

traffic, no city services, and lots of privacy....and a live and let live attitude.

Slowly, the lights of the city crept through the mountain passes, spreading out on the desert floor like diamonds. More people and small farms moved to our area, and development also crept our way. Soon development began to explode, and city of Scottsdale annexed some 95 square miles, including us. There are now some 50,000 homes in that area, and more on the way.

Our 2 1/2 acre homestead is still a big property for the area; lots of mature trees and nice neighbors, and lots of horse farms. Animals are a part of the character of the area; in addition to our birds we have fed and watered the indigenous creatures which co-exist with us. When we learned we were losing the 2 square miles in front of our house to development, we decided to make a major move.

We began by studying the weather in different parts of the Americas, from Mexico to Alaska. We used the internet extensively, and watched foreign newscasts for political climate information. We checked daily weather reports for many areas of interest. As areas were more thoroughly researched, we would call the county water departments and check on aquifers, water tables, rainfall amounts and data from public well records. We would call planning and zoning departments for regulations, as chamber of commerce folks for their opinions on different towns.

After two months of work, I decided against a 150 acre farm in Mexico. I talked to people from US F&W to see if I could import my baby birds back in to the US under the new NAFTA agreements, and found I could not. I could take my bird farm IN to Mexico, but not out. We looked from Oaxaca to Sonora, and even considered a 1600 acre private mountain just south of the Arizona border. Then we scoured southern Arizona for a year, and found a 320 acre semi-abandoned riverside farm. The price seemed o.k., and the climate was within what we had determined would be realistic. We started doing our more detailed research, and soon discovered water problems; a city down-river and a military base were in litigation, and the river would be the victim no matter who won. That also meant that the 80 gallon and the 120 gallon a minute irrigation wells would not be allowed to operate; no crops equal no farm.

We researched properties in western New Mexico,many were too high in altitude or too inaccessible. One very appealing canyon was available in eastern Arizona, 100 miles of washboard dirt road would be a problem. I have lived on a dirt road for years, and know how much extra work must be done to maintain the vehicles.

By now our search has narrowed to California, from Santa Barbara north. Inland areas like Fresno, Sacramento and Redding are eliminated as too hot in the summers. As long as you are going to move, the place needs to be perfect.

What we sought was a place with kind temperatures, southern exposure, privacy, at least two acres of flat land for the aviaries and good water and good soil. Proper zoning is a must, and so is telephone service. Access for our big delivery trucks is needed, and power would be a plus. Even with our criteria spelled out, we were shown properties that were mostly vertical, ones divided into halves by major landslides, others made inaccessible by mudslide roads, parcels with incorrect zonings, wrong soil types, trees that were pre-sold....that sort of thing.

We eliminated most of the coast, narrowing it down to Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino counties. Several trips were made looking at properties, and checking zoning and such. When we found the Garcia River valley, we were enchanted. We made a full price offer on 22 acres there, and the owner decided he wanted more money than full price, so we kept looking. The zoning on that would have worked, as it was RR- rural residential, and allowed 40 animals per acre. We asked Planning & Zoning about 'animals' by definition, and the code books did not differentiate between 40 elephants or 40 goldfish. It was all the same to them. We were advised that better still for our uses would be Agricultural zoning, the same as the other farmers in the area.

Finally we found it. 16.8 acres of Agricultural land, mostly flat, and surrounded by a perimeter of trees. One meadow is about 10 acres, and has been farmed before. There is another smaller meadow, sloping and suitable for orchards. The balance of the land, between the meadows and the road, is a wooded area. Perfect for children! The water is good, and there is a small dwelling on it. I checked with Planning and Zoning one last time, and was told it would be fine for our uses, just get back to them for use permits before building our barn. We bought it and began the move. The move itself is subject for several articles to come.

Now, dear reader, the point of this article. Even with all this work of checking, and rechecking, we have zoning problems. Suddenly the raising of parrots is not considered 'farming' by Mendocino Planning and Zoning, and there has been an 'anonymous' complaint. There is nothing in the Mendocino County code books prohibiting the conservation breeding of parrots, and no mention was ever made of it in the many conversations I had with P&Z on the selection of properties. Egg production, row crops, orchards and livestock all qualify as an agricultural use...I suspect that there is a 'good old boy' mentality here, as we are having to solicit the services of attorneys to even get copies of the complaints. Due process is also at issue here, and if I can find this sort of trouble without even asking for it, so can you.. In recognizing that farming also includes birds such as mine, in addition to chickens and other poultry, the county would have to declare me a farm (in line with my zoning) and allow me to build a barn, nursery, storage buildings and the like. Equal uses for equal zoning is an issue.

If you find yourself making a move, be aware that there are still people in this world who do not understand what we 'bird people' do, and can cause you grief and delay in your plans. Take notes of the officials you speak to and when and why, so that if you suffer the same unforeseen problems as ours, you can be prepared for the legal matters that will await you. And if someone unknown to you calls you out of the clear blue sky and "'orders you to move'," remember that this is still America, and if it is not for people like all of us, these birds will become extinct.

The Nestbox 10/13/99 Geoffrey and Barbara Gould