In our third installment of our series featuring women in land ownership, we hear from someone whose farmland is helping bring future dreams and plans to life.

Michelle Anderson and her husband, Allen, aren’t farmers. But they are plant people, having owned and operated Whispering Hills Garden & Landscape Center for 30 years. With a healthy respect and love for what it takes to make things grow, and a realistic view of the difficulty of getting great nursery stock for their landscape and retail clients, they decided that their next goal was to have a nursery to grow trees.

Three things a professional tree nursery requires are land, funding and time. The farmland the Andersons purchased last year is helping them address all three areas, bringing them one step closer to realizing their dream. But becoming a new landowner isn’t easy, and Michelle quickly realized there was a lot she didn’t know.

Garden Center storefront
Whispering Hills Garden & Landscape Center

Finding the perfect property

“We’ve lived in a busy area in the Chicago suburbs for many years, and we knew we wanted to move someplace quieter,” Michelle says. “We were particularly looking for a decent amount of property so we could both get away from the noise, and have a place to grow our trees.” It took several years for them to find just the right spot, which became theirs in December 2018.

Michelle note, “Our tree nursery is really a long-term plan. We knew we were going to need to lease the land for a few years.” This would give the couple the opportunity to gain income to put toward the project, and time to get the right plan in place for converting part of the property to a nursery.

You don’t know what you don’t know

The Andersons purchased their property from an estate, and unfortunately the circumstances were such that they couldn’t get a lot of information about the history of the land. They got the contact name and number of the farmer who had previously leased the land, and he made them an offer to continue renting the land. As new landowners, it was difficult for them to know if that offer was reasonable or not. They didn’t know what they should be asking, or how to find out. “I just Googled ‘how much an acre should you get for farmland?’ and that’s how I found Tillable.”

tree farm

Trusting your instincts

Michelle notes that when they received their initial offer, it was tempting to take it and move forward, but something was telling her she needed to do some more research. “Taxes are expensive, land is valuable, and I just thought, you should get the most you can.” Tillable performed a Free Farmland Checkup for Michelle, which gave her some of the basic information she needed to understand both her farm’s quality and its earning potential. The information made a big difference for Michelle: “It made our lives so much easier to have that information, and it was a really good experience working with Tillable. Almost too good, because it was so easy that I was skeptical!”

The Andersons ultimately decided to work with Tillable to do price discovery on their farmland, both to understand what fair market rent might be and to find a new, qualified farmer. “We got an offer that was two-and-a-half times what the first farmer was offering us,” Michelle says.

evergreen trees

Moving forward

When asked about what advice she has for other landowners, especially female landowners, Michelle says, “Do your homework! It’s easy to take somebody’s word, but you owe it to yourself not to do that. Your land is valuable and you’re responsible for making sure you receive the rent you should, from a farmer you trust to do a good job.”

Unlike many farmland owners, the Andersons aren’t planning to rent their land forever—at least, not all of it. The expect their tree venture will take only part of the land, and now they have the information they need, and a good relationship with a local farmer, to be able to plan for the possibilities for the rest. And thanks to Michelle’s insistence on listening to her gut, they’re in a better position to make their dream come true.

This is the third in a series of articles highlighting women in farmland ownership. Read the first two installments here and here.

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