02/22/2011 06:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Farmer's Second Act Puts Down Roots In Dayton, Ohio

Farmer Phil Green has been a regular at Southern California farmers markets for over 20 years and grew up in a farming family in Lompoc.

At one point he and a partner farmed over 300 acres of land, primarily asparagus and artichokes, and sold in 30 farmers markets. Farming so much land enabled them to bring asparagus to markets nearly year round, to the delight of their many loyal customers. In the late 90ʼs Phil and his partner split the partnership and divided the markets between them. Philʼs reduced acreage, totaling about 60 acres in several different locations in Lompoc, allows him to grow enough produce for ten weekly farmers markets. In addition to artichokes and asparagus, he grows staples like broccoli an cauliflower, and can produce a good supply of zucchini blossoms which are a favorite of local chefs and produce companies.

Phil feels that he has been blessed with good fortune, which is how he describes his life growing up in a farming family of modest means with plenty of opportunity to work outdoors and to do business with mostly good and honest people. Now that his son has shown an interest and aptitude for farming, Phil feels that it is time for himself to finally get down off the tractor and look for a gentler retirement plan. He followed a lead on the internet buying abandoned bank-owned homes in cities hard-hit by the mortgage meltdown, particularly in the midwestern rust belt areas, and settled on Dayton Ohio, where some family relatives live. He bought his first two bank owned houses in 2008 for $8,000 and $10,000 respectively. They were abandoned, stripped of plumbing and wiring, with no doors or windows. Working with a youth from the neighborhood, he started by replacing all the doors and windows and putting in tile. Before the first house was finished he had 20 offers to buy from residents.

The plan was to buy and rehab the houses, rent them out for about $500 per month for 2-3 years to recoup the construction costs, then offer them for sale for under $20,000. At that price monthly payments including tax and insurance would be around $400 per month, bringing the reality of home ownership to a housing market that had once valued the same houses at over $70,000.

After the first year of working in Dayton, Phil had five houses rehabbed and rented, and had forged a good working relationship with one of the neighborhood youths he had mentored; good enough to leave him on his own for 6 weeks at a time while he returned to his California farming and sales activities. Housing prices have continued to fall to under $5,000, and there are now eight finished rented houses.

Living in the neighborhood while he works on houses, Phil has experienced the friendships and privations of a neighborhood that still has a 30% vacancy rate and a lack of good fresh produce. He recently bought two empty lots and has plans to set up a community garden on one site and allow a neighbor to take on the second lot to grow vegetables and raise chickens. He has two more lots lined up and would like to get ten more to plant a fruit orchard. His motivation, other than making a reasonable living for himself, is to give something back to a neighborhood in a part of the country where doing business with mostly good and honest people brings a lifetime of rewards.