Land Owners

Land Owners

Question: About 20% of farm land on NP bench is on the tax rolls as held by women.  Are women farming this land?

If you read the New Plymouth original founders and first purchaser lists then you will find some women.  These were mainly Chicago wealthy women. Friends of some speculators aiming to make a buck in this opportunity and/or help get the enterprise “off the ground.” Wealthy folk in Chicago, and no doubt other eastern cities, belonged to clubs and social circles that often “invested” in beginning companies, outright speculation. A common and frequent “fad” of the day.  It was, of course, the capitalist era! 

In a number of companies that I started, it took more capital than I had, or was willing to invest at the moment. So I went around to friends and acquaintances to get them to invest with me — that is how I started the little bank I had. The New Plymouth founders were no different.  They also had a circle of friends, and relatives — so when reading the list of the beginning stockholders, then you see this sort of thing in action.  If you read the founding docs of the vast majority of corporations that is how they start.

In fact in the Abstract of Title on my dad’s acres, it was first purchased by Edith E. Ross (directly from the US) an original founding investor.  Some of this group (women bought a number of properties to be resold).  Most companies beginning such quasi public type enterprises have rules/regs stating that they must be subscribed to some required degree, before they can let users actually buy the land. All modern condo, Home Owner Associations, city charters, etc., have such requirements.  I have done maybe twenty of these and know the drill.  There must be an ongoing muni arrangement of sorts to govern the entity or enterprise. This means that when voting some might be outvoted by other interests.  So there must be some mechanism enabling voting.  Federal funding laws (FHA, VA), if you build a condo, or even a tract of housing, require 70% to be sold (subscribed) “before”  the funding can be done on any of them.  This forces the entity to be a “viable” one.  There are also restrictions on the developer voting the remaining unsold lots.

However, the vast majority (maybe all) of the female landowners  originally on the current tax rolls are not operators nor speculators, but simply women who outlived their husbands. In early days, life on a farm at turn of the century was physically demanding. There were no antibiotics, and circulatory disease was as common, or perhaps more common, than when it became known and treated later on. So men died off around 50-60 and wives often lived into 70s.

My own mother was the owner of our farm after dad died in 1979, and she survived him.  (Ditto with all our neighbors).  She rented the land to a neighbor down the road for maybe ten years — then I negotiated a sale that would allow her to remain in the house as long as she was able — turned out to be 1994 — 15 years — in order that she had access to the money tied up in the land — which became her support the remainder off her life.

Many of these women moved off the land into relatives’ homes that lived in cities.  The acreage was left go — just fallow ground.  These older women were completely unable to farm them, the land was free and clear of liens (mortgages paid off during their lifetime), so there was no need for it to be productive.  Or, in some cases, even to rent them.  Kind of out of sight out of mind.  Or, often surviving women rented to a neighbor — dirt cheap — that neighbor would know the circumstances of the owner, and could not pass up the opportunity to rent cheap.  If the ground went fallow, then it became weed choked and infested by gophers.

Neighbors east of us a mile, daughters of the original farm owner — the Mason twins, who both had been NP teachers for their working lifetime, inherited the farm.  Both remained unmarried, both lived there until they died very old women.  The neighbor across the road rented the land all that time.  I often did work for him on that land.  These properties often had a big old house — as the women grew older, the house would be overgrown with over-aged landscaping, maintenance would be neglected, and local kids would inevitably come up with haunted house stories.  The federal building of the senior center in New Plymouth, brought many of these older widows into town and out of ancient housing.  Such then abandoned housing might be taken down or moved off.

In fact, the additional acres across the canal that my dad purchased in 1942, had been owned by widow Mary Yaryan since 1922, who died, leaving it to her son, who sold it to dad in 1942. The land had been left fallow for 20 years, they being in Portland or Seattle — a long way away, and it was a real mess.  My sister and I spent two years catching all the gophers.  And, fighting the weed seed for all the years necessary to clean it up.  Weeds let go like this usually have what are called “noxious weeds.”  These are particularly bad weeds taking extreme measures to eradicate, and which threaten to outgrow and out-compete any other plants.

Another neighbor to the south, Art Newburn, was 75.  I had talked with him for years about buying his farm when he retired.  He was an old “batch” (bachelor) and childless.  However, when he died, turned out he did not own the land.  Instead it had been left to the kids by their folks.  The kids included Art and five sisters — all older than he was!  Situations like this tend to drag on many years.  Sometimes a neighbor, to prevent the fallow problems (which would also impact them) would petition the probate court to allow them to rent from the estate, while the resolution took place.

In all my years in Payette Valley, I never heard of a woman who bought farmland to farm or for ranching (excepting the founders).  Not, that it might not have happened, just that I was never aware of any.

This is not a farm problem, but is equally a city problem.  It is easily visible to anyone who will simply drive around a town noticing the vacant lots and rundown houses.  Most often owned by a widow (sometimes by an “estate”) living out her years elsewhere, who cannot or will not pay any attention — sometimes the heirs squabble getting nothing done for years.   This always causes a problem because any abandoned appearing property attracts the wrong kind of mischief.  Sometimes a house burns and never rebuilt.  These cause problems for the city because they still must maintain infrastructure (sewer, water, first responder support, appraisers, etc.)  A sewer pipe that goes by a vacant lot costs just as much to build and maintain as one with a functioning residence or business.  An abandoned or derelict property cannot be assessed what other good properties can. So the muni authority has a basket case and non tax generating property on its hands but, still is on the hook for servicing.

This problem used to be addressed by cities who would and could tax these until the taxes would literally force the owners to either sell or turn to better use.  Some munis have derelict laws that allow the fire dep’t to burn these down to prevent drug use.  No matter what the issue is, having this 20% on the tax rolls is a negative for the county.  Some munis will carry unpaid taxes for, say, five years. If still unpaid then the property “is sold at auction for the taxes” in order to get someone in there who will use the property.

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