Before we’d even moved onto our farm, we found ourselves at odds with a neighbor. What happened was this: my husband and a contractor friend of his were leaving our new property late one night after working on it. As my husband drove down our lane, he saw a pickup in the corner of our farm where it joins the neighbor’s. Rolling down his window as he neared it, he glimpsed inside the truck an older man with a younger woman.
“She and I were just having a conversation,” the man stuttered, gesturing toward the woman. “We’ll, uh, leave right away.”
My husband nodded agreeably. “That’s probably a good idea. I just bought this farm and we’d appreciate folks not hanging out here.”
“Yep, right away,” the man nodded, starting his engine.
We never saw the man nor his female companion again.
Shortly after that, however, my husband received a call from the neighbor whose commercial property borders ours. (We’ll call him Bert). “Who do you think you are, treatin’ my buddy that way!” Bert bellowed, peppering his tirade with cusses.
“Why was your friend parked on our property?” my husband returned. “Better yet, what was he doing?”
Not even moved in, and we were off to a great start with our neighbor.
Turning a foe into a friend
There were several components to the shady pickup story. We learned not long after moving in that our secluded property, and that corner in particular, was a hangout for folks wanting not to be seen doing various deeds (other interesting individuals and interactions followed shortly after the pickup incident, but faded in frequency after about three months and the installation of cameras). Secondly, it is possible that the pickup was partially or entirely on our property, or else partially or entirely on Bert’s, we don’t know; the exact boundary line, particularly at night, would be difficult to pinpoint and my husband and I were still familiarizing ourselves with it. Finally, we had no idea that the pickup driver was a friend of Bert’s or that it was his understanding he could camp out in that corner, as he never indicated so).
As crazy as it all was, my quick counsel to my husband was this: “Calm down, let it go for now, and in a day or two smooth things over with Bert.”
My husband did so. He let the hard feelings evaporate, and looked instead for ways to be a blessing to Bert, including helping him with a small project when he dropped by a short time later. The pickup incident was never mentioned again, nor were there further contentions between us. Bert did, however, plow out our lane on numerous occasions over the years to come and refused to take money for it. We in turn helped maintain the cost to put down millings on the long right of way shared between us and his commercial guests. We became each other’s eyes and ears for trespassers and vagrants.
Bert, whatever friends he may have kept company with, was a faithful neighbor to us right up until the time he sold his property.
“If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18)
The rewards of good neighbors
Cultivating good community through relationships with neighbors is rewarding and enjoyable; and honestly, it’s just wise. Our neighbors on all sides have helped us, and we them, concerning animal husbandry, through power outages, during snowstorms, and even with housing out-of-town family. One neighbor gifted me with a book on the history of the township we are in, and the details of our farm in particular. With another I have an informal bartering system, in which she’s blessed me with Jerusalem artichokes and duck eggs and even homesteading books, and I’ve in turn given her blueberry tomatoes and spinach and goat cheese.
Another neighbor came in a pinch when one of my goats managed to get herself stuck inside a barred feeding trough. Our Amish neighbors once pushed out a car belonging to a visitor of ours when it was stuck in the snow (we joked that his buggy was the better set of wheels).
You never know when a neighbor is going to come in handy. Here are a few ideas to develop good relations with those who border you:
- Bring a goodwill offering at some point, either after you or they move in, to break the ice (fresh eggs, homemade bread, or plant starts are nearly always appreciated)
- Throw a drop-in (We had a Christmas drop-in to meet our neighbors since they’re so spread out and it was a lot of fun. We also learned a lot with these interactions in terms of some of the history of our place and also tidbits about the community itself.)
- Shovel their walks on snowy days (it’s hard to go wrong with this gesture of kindness)
- Avoid gossip like it’s a virus (Never badmouth a neighbor to another neighbor, nor participate by listening to ill reports of another)
- Drive the speed limit (whizzing by your neighbors, their children, or their pets will get you out of their good graces perhaps faster than anything else)
- Do your best to settle property line disputes before they require legal intervention. *A word about this, because it’s a biggie. Over half the cases cluttering our legal system involve property disputes of some sort. There are two basic kinds of property disputes involving neighbors:
- Encroachment is when an object or structure extends over or onto another’s property. This might be as simple as an overgrown tree.
- Trespassing involves physical intrusion without gaining permission from the landowner.
Talk to your neighbor first to try to reach an understanding. Procuring a title of the property and/or hiring a land surveyor to determine exact boundaries may also be needed if you can’t come to an agreement. It is wise not to yell at, threaten, use sarcasm on, or otherwise make yourself odious to a neighbor.
When necessary, use signs to indicate “private property” or “no trespassing.” Again, keep these succinct and professional. Profanity and sarcasm reflect poorly on a homeowner. I’m of the opinion a good reputation still matters!
In conclusion, enjoy these quotes and proverbs about neighbors: