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Giving away the farm

Have a passion for country living? Have a certain way with words?

If so, then Rock Spring Farm, a 35-acre “hobby farm” in rural Essex County, could be yours for a nominal fee.

The current owners, Randy Silvers and Carolyn Berry, are hosting an essay contest in hopes to hand over the deed to a fellow farming enthusiast who can demonstrate – in 1,000 words or less – a love for animals and a willingness to work the land.

The property is assessed at approximately $600,000. It boasts a main house, a small cottage, a 19th century cookhouse, two barns and a woodworking shop.

Silvers and Berry are retiring due to health reasons, according to their blog, www.rockspringfarm.org. Rather than turn the property over to a real estate agent, the couple sought a creative, out-of-the-box way to ensure that the new owner will love the farm as much as they do and work to keep its spirit alive. They hope to fulfill the dream of a dedicated individual who may otherwise not be able to afford such a venture.

A charitable notion, indeed. And the owners won’t exactly be walking away from their beloved farm empty-handed.

To submit an essay, there is a $200 entry fee. Silvers and Berry say they hope to receive at least 5,000 entries. If you do the math, that equals a cool $1 million – enough to pay off their current mortgage, purchase a “downsized” retirement home and establish college funds for their grandchildren.

Sounds like a win-win at both ends of the deal. But is such a gamble, in fact, legal?

Yes, according to the owners. “Essay contests are legal because they require skill,” the couple’s blog states, “not luck or chance as with raffles and lotteries.”

As an extra layer of protection against claims of impropriety, entries will be collected by a designated trustee, who will use a numbering system to conceal the identities of the participants. The owners will then read every one of the essays submitted and narrow the pool down to 25 finalists. The finalists’ essays will be handed over to a panel of three judges – an educator, a horse enthusiast and a hobby farmer – who will ultimately select the contest winner.

Judges will weigh spelling, grammar and word usage, but will also factor in the “heart” of the essay – an element that the owners admit is hard to quantify. “It will have captured five hearts and spoken to us in a manner that sets it apart from the others,” Berry explains on her blog.

The new owner will be announced by the end of November.

Think you’ve got what it takes to take over the farm? An entry form and full contest guidelines are available on the Rock Spring Farm blog. The deadline to enter is Oct. 1.

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