If you’re in the market for a new house, you likely have already experienced the massive shortage of single-family homes plaguing 2022.
The disparity between people looking for homes to buy versus the number of homes on the market has pushed the national median listing price to a new high of $405,000, up 13.5% from last year and a whopping 26.5% from March 2020.
Given the stiff competition, some buyers might wonder if there are any nontraditional properties they could call home out there.
Karen “Mimo” Davis and Miranda Duschack embody one possibility: a farm and house smack dab in the middle of a big city.
Davis and Duschack are the proud owners of Urban Buds: City Grown Flowers, a small urban farmstead where they grow high-quality flowers in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis. The evolution from an abandoned, vandalized, and overgrown lot to a colorful and productive flower farm was challenging, but one Duschack and Davis look back on with pride. This is their story.
The property’s history
Urban Buds is located in a diverse, working-class neighborhood 7 miles south of the Gateway Arch. Its neighbors include a mosque, one of the largest Spanish-speaking Catholic parishes in St. Louis, two Buddhist temples, and a host of residences.
The farmstead dates to 1870. From 1905, the Held family farmed the land, growing vegetables and flowers to sell in St. Louis. By the 1950s, the family was operating glass greenhouses on the property. Over the years, however, the family sold off plots for development and then the farm in the mid-1990s. The property changed hands several more times.
In 2011, the Rev. Larry Rice, the property owner, reached out to Duschack, who was a small-farm specialist with the Lincoln University Innovative Small Farmer’s Outreach Program. Rice asked if she might know of someone interested in purchasing the farmstead. Instead, it turns out, Rice had found one of his new owners.
The price was right
The median listing price for a home in St. Louis is currently $169,900. In 2012, the four-lot farm, which included a glass greenhouse and a run-down house, was listed for $150,000.
But after Davis and Duschack shared their business plan and vision for the farmstead, Rice gave them a break: a $145,000 price cut. Davis and Duschack would purchase the property for $5,000.
However, that was just the beginning of their investment. Duschack and Davis worked full time the first five years rehabbing the property, which included removing the run-down house and 245 abandoned tires. (Yes, they counted them.)
Assistance to help their gardens grow
Over the years, Urban Buds received roughly $150,000 in city and state agricultural grants for the research and development of the Missouri-based cut-flower industry. Urban Buds applied the grants toward cultivating the soil and building a high tunnel for growing flowers, among other projects.
Now, Davis and Duschack (the former couple are now co-parents) own seven of the 14 lots on their block, which includes the 1-acre farm, the glass greenhouse, a flower shop that’s not currently in use, and two adjacent brick bungalows, one of which is home.
We talked with Duschack about her incredible urban farm and farm-owning journey.
What convinced you to buy an urban farm in the middle of St.Louis?
Mimo and I are farmers, so we knew we wanted a farm. But when I first saw our property, I thought, “I don’t know.” The glass greenhouse was busted and full of trash. And the old house was full of tires. There was a lot of illegal dumping.
And at the time, Mimo had a farm in Ashland, MO, with a spring-fed pond and a handmade cabin. Plus, it abuts Mark Twain National Forest—it’s pretty dreamy. But our support system was in St. Louis, and we knew if we wanted to have kids, they’d need to go to town. So we shifted from the rural farming idea of needing 25 or 50 acres.
And then we decided to buy this place, and the first thing we did was contact the city of St. Louis Business Assistance Office. I just wanted to grow flowers. I looked at farming as a way I could help the environment and not be in an office all day.
Now, we’re currently growing on a little less than an acre, and we employ five people.
What did house hunting (or farm hunting) look like for you?
We started looking in town, and people kept saying, “Oh, check out my lot.” But then this [property] came along, and it was just serendipitous.
I had a reasonable down payment for the property. But getting that house next door was vital [to serve as a residence]. I had spent the money buying the farm, and we needed another 20% for the construction loan on the rehab of the small house.
Thankfully, through friends, we connected with a general contractor for the rehab who put up the 20% in an account earmarked for us at the bank—and that’s what pushed it through.
I was scared about all the money we put into it. I didn’t tell my parents about buying it for six months. I took a big gamble, but I’m glad I did.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
The hardest thing to address was the falling-down, wood-frame house on the property. That was an extensive process because it was considered historic, and it was part of why people didn’t buy the property. It was the second-oldest wood-frame house in the city of St. Louis.
We had to go to the historical committee. People cried at the meeting, saying we were destroying history. But we eventually tore the house down and got that property growing again.
Ultimately, we’re idealists. We like the sayings “Go big or go home” and “One time around.” And we knew we could work it out.
What advice would you give aspiring homebuyers (or farm buyers)?
If someone has an inkling to do farming or urban farming, it’s much easier to get a mortgage than a farm loan or a business loan.
And don’t be afraid of rehab. If I was looking for a finished farm, there’s no way I could have afforded it.
Conquer fears and take risks. And open your mind. You can find good people and interesting properties all over the country. You don’t know exactly where your little slice of heaven will be.