Why one Smiths Falls farmer is giving away his land for free

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Rent-free farm offer sows more interest than owner can handle

If you love animals, are prepared to work hard and long for the bucolic lifestyle, Stephen Overbury has a proposition for you.

Overbury is looking for someone to take over his farm near Smiths Falls, Ont., as he prepares to return to Japan, where he had lived for about 15 years.

But instead of selling it or renting it out, the 62-year-old is offering it up to the right person, in perpetuity — and it won't cost a dime to take it over.

"[Selling] is conventional thinking, the prudent way of thinking about yourself and what's best for yourself," Overbury told CBC News on Friday.

"By selling the farm, first I'd have to dispose of the animals. And a number of them are older, and a few are special-needs. And that's what I call reckless abandonment."

'Hundreds' of offers

Earlier this week, Overbury posted an ad titled "HARD WORKING POSITION WITHOUT PAY (honest!)" on online classified ad site Kijiji.

His ad offers "permanent use of a wonderful waterfront historical farm, four barns, a paved driveway, some equipment and a vehicle and, if necessary, free training to run a hobby farm," along with a "picturesque 1830 stone home in good condition." 

It also says Overbury will cover the cost of food and vet bills for the assortment of animals — including cows, chickens, ducks and sheep — that call the farm home.

Since Overbury posted the ad, it has been viewed about 40,000 times. He said he has received "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds" of applications so far — and expects that number to continue to grow.

But he has high standards for who will take over his picturesque farm on the shores of the Rideau River.

Animal lovers only

For one, Overbury wants tenants who have realistic goals for the farm and would "genuinely" make use of it.

They also have to be tried-and-true, "compassionate" animal lovers, which means not killing raccoons or any other unwanted creatures that show up on the farm. 

And of course, anyone who signs up can't be afraid of difficult labour.

"Thirty below zero, slugging around and feeding the cows? This is sheer hard work, and it is not for everybody," Overbury said. 

Overbury wasn't on his own when he took over the farm three years ago, but he is now, and said the upkeep has simply become too onerous. He briefly looked into finding new homes for his animals, but said it would take "decades" to find appropriate accommodations for all of them.

If he can't find the right person, Overbury plans to simply stay put, but he hopes the search for a new steward will be a fruitful one.

"It's not a matter of giving [the land] up. I never had it, as such. We're but custodians of real estate, [which] is my philosophy, my own personal philosophy," Overbury said.

"And I know that somebody else coming in, that's the right fit, will treat the animals with compassion — and I'll benefit from that comfort."