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Fountain, Florida.

We live in the Florida panhandle, just 40 miles south of Alabama. This area is very rural and the people are friendly. While south Florida has grown overpopulated and is known mostly for its crime and rudeness, this area is still underdeveloped of natural land.

The soil is sand. All sand. This is both a plus and minus. We used to have to move a lot of rocks before any crops could grow in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. Here we use raised beds and don't even worry about tree roots. Digging here is easy, as is setting fence posts.

On the minus side the sand works its way into the house and sand drains too well, so water for our plants is a problem in a drought. Perhaps by next year we will have enough compost built up so it will hold the water better.

The land is covered with natural oaks, dogwood, pine, sassafras and other beautiful trees. While there are lots of berries they have not taken over like they have in Oregon and walking in the woods is still pleasant.

We have a long growing season and with the addition of even small amounts of compost, almost anything can be grown. With a little knowledge of Northern Florida's cold, wet and dry periods, it is possible to grow a summer and fall garden, winter greens and a variety of less hardy vegetables with just an unheated green house. The state, through the cooperative extension service, helps local growers directly sell to the public through grower-only local farmer's markets.

While beach front homes sell for over $200,00, undeveloped rural land can be had for $500 to $1,000 per acre. The Gulf is nearby for beaches and salt water fishing and our immediate area is abundant with rivers, streams and small lakes. While these are important to us from a recreational view, we have learned in living in several parts of the country that water in good supply is a survival essential. To expand our three-quarter acre of raised beds next year to two, we will need to dig an irrigation well, but the water table is high -- wells are about 15 to 30 feet deep in our area.

We also have 600 feet on a year-round round creek, that even in the drought this year gave us the assurance of never really running out of water for our livestock and plants. In future years will clear some land near it and try some wetland plantings.

The summer has been pretty hot and dry this year, but the winters are really nice. While it drops to the freezing point many nights, the days are shirt sleeve weather.

Bugs are one problem of summer. While we have not had any tick problem, the fleas and the fire ants seem to be winning this year. We try for organic control, so this might not be as much of a problem to those who use sprays. While there are some snakes in our area, we have not been bothered with them. One coral snake (poisonous) made the mistake of entering our chicken yard, to be fought over as a delicacy.

It is not necessary to be a conventional wage earner to own land here. Florida has a "homestead" program that allows the first $25,000 of property value to be tax exempt. As our place cost $24,000 we pay no land tax. The rule is, it must be residence, be it cave, tent or cabin.

Once we build a "real" house, we will have to pay taxes, but for now we can live in our converted bus and devote our would-be tax money to improving our land. We are building a 12' x 12' "stack wood" shed. Our county allows up to $1,000 in building materials, without a permit, for any structure. The logs off our own land don't count as part of that $1,000.

We studied the whole U.S. before deciding to try the panhandle of Florida. Overall, this state has pretty good laws, including gun laws. While we might not want to go to Miami, we feel safe here. It is nice to see the deer, fox and wild pigs in our woods. We have mixed feelings about the armadillo and gopher, as they like our garden.

There is land for sale here for no money down, and any really hard working person could have their own place "beyond the sidewalks."

We hope this doesn't sound too much like a real estate ad, but we would like to attract other homesteaders to our area and would welcome questions. We wish you all well and good homesteading.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Finding Your Homestead: Some "Best Places" in the United States
Author:Kavison, K.L.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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