43.5-acre farm: $100

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ORWELL, Ohio – The offer may sound far-fetched, but it’s completely legal and real: Dennis and Rose Wallace are giving away their Ashtabula County farm.

They’re passing their 43-acre property, free and clear with no strings attached, to the winner of an essay contest.

A brilliant idea

The Wallaces, both in their 50s, got their idea from a Lifetime television network movie in which an older woman used an essay contest to give away her bar and restaurant.

The New England real estate market, where the movie was set, was sluggish. Dennis and Rose drew parallels between that woman’s circumstances and their own real-life story.

They’re getting older and can’t manage the property as easily as they could when they moved here 14 years ago, they say.

And they were afraid that if they posted it for sale with any local realtor, it could sit on a stagnant market for who knows how long.

“There are a lot of foreclosures around here. We see houses sitting empty two, three years. Every six months the real estate sign out front changes, but it’s still here, waiting,” Rose said.

So the Wallaces hired an attorney to be sure their uncommon proposal would fly, then set out to make someone’s dream come true.

A real chance

Neither Wallace grew up on a farm. In fact, they’re self-proclaimed city folk, natives of Cleveland.

But they wanted the chance to live in the country, to attempt to raise their own fruits and vegetables and crops and livestock and give their four children an upbringing different than their own.

When Nissan built a paint plant near their Sheffield Lake home nearly two decades ago, they immediately set out to find a new home. Rose plotted a map with a 50-mile radius of their work at the postal service and their search began.

She shocked Dennis when she told him of her dream to live on a farm.

“I told her she was crazy!” he says.

Though it was more than 20 miles farther from their targeted area, the 16 1/2 acre farmette along Storey Road just off the southernmost boundary of Ashtabula County caught their eye.

It had sat empty for quite awhile. The grass was as tall as their two youngest children.

They envisioned a new life there.

They sold the Sheffield Lake home and came east. They put out a garden, bought an Appaloosa to keep the pastures down, and eventually bought two other lots next door to expand their farm.

Now that their children are nearly grown, they want to pass off their property and give another family that same opportunity.

Essay entry

For $100, someone will get that chance. All they have to do is write an essay to convince a judge they’re the right person to own the farm.

Entrants must write an essay of at least 50 words telling why they’d like to own the property and mail it and a $100 non-refundable entry fee to a post office box set up by the Wallaces.

They’ve limited the contest to 3,000 entries, and won’t give away the farm unless they receive that many.

The number will generate $300,000, which the Wallaces figure will pay off their mortgage and leave enough to put a down payment on their new home.

“The odds of winning, 1 in 3,000, is better than anything else I’ve ever seen, even the lottery,” Dennis says.

A third-party judge will read every entry and make the final decision.

Reactions

Rose started posting fliers about their contest at local corner stores, groceries and hardware stores March 21.

Word spread, and the fliers made their way into Pennsylvania and Florida and Cleveland with family members and friends.

The Wallaces posted the information on a Web site, too. A Kansas radio broadcaster called to talk about the proposal.

And so far, there are more than 150 entries, Rose reports, with return addresses from Ohio towns she’s never heard of, and from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, even Japan.

“They’re coming in steady every day.”

Going south

Dennis, a cancer survivor who has also endured a quadruple bypass and deals with severe emphysema daily, needs a change of pace and environment.

He and Rose have already scouted mild-weathered southern Tennessee for a new property, but can’t move forward until their current property is given away.

Their method is a bit edgy, they agree, but they see lots of logic in their madness.

“This is our way of moving and offering a chance for someone to own a 43-acre farm for only $100,” Dennis said.

“We’d love to pick this place up, house and all, and take it with us to someplace with nicer weather, but we’re doing this instead.”

“We want to give it to someone who really needs and wants it and will take care of it.”

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