What's it like to live in the country in Bradford County, Florida? We asked a homesteader on a farm in this beautiful county to find out!
Bradford County isn’t your typical Florida hotspot.
Located between Gainesville and Jacksonville, it’s a quiet, sleepy and swampy place set smack between Gainesville and Jacksonville, FL. An easy place to drive through without really noticing.
And its residents, like our own Terri Hall, like it that way.
In her youth, Terri never thought she would end up living on a dead-end road surrounded by wetlands. But today, she and her husband are living-the-good-life in their beautiful rural Bradford County farm.
As a kick-off to support the launch of our new communities in Bradford County, Terri agreed to share her story of going from city apartment living to country life, plus amazing tips and insights on why quiet-sleepy-swampy Bradford County is one of Florida’s best kept secrets.
The Motivation to go Rural? It was all about LOVE
Terri grew up as a self-professed “army brat":
“We moved all around, but Alabama is where I spent most of my time. Growing up we lived in subdivisions until I went off to college where I majored in forestry”.
Terri had no idea her forestry background would come in so handy until she fell madly in love with 4th generation Bradford County country boy, Ronny.
“When we got married I was living in an apartment in Jacksonville. My husband’s very country and his family has been here for years, so everything I know today about rural life, I learned from him.”
That was 21 years ago, and she’s never looked back.
Chickens rule the roost in this part of Terri's property.
From Trendy City Living To Rustic Man’s Paradise
As a newlywed, Terri had some idea of what she was getting into when her and her new hubby set up house on his family’s land.
“My husband’s fourth generation in this area. His grandparents owned the land, and his parents owned a portion and bought some additional acreage. We live adjacent to the Santa Fe Swamp surrounded by pastures, trees and nature.”
They were fortunate in that the property was already set up with utilities and electric…but, as Terri explains, their home needed a makeover that reflected the new life they were building together.
“My husband jokes that the only thing that’s the same about the original house is its location. Before we got married, my husband had created a man’s paradise with a rustic cedar board and batten house. With some remodeling, we were able to create a plantation-style house with big wraparound porches and lots of light.”
“From our porch, we can watch the chickens in the yard, the goats in the field, and wildlife that wanders through. Porches are a great way to experience nature every day. You can't get that in the big city. ”
Terri says, despite their rural location, good contractors and help haven’t been hard to find.
“We have a community of people that have been here forever and really want to help you and work with you. It’s down-home people helping people.”
Living the Good Life in Bradford County (it’s not for everyone)
Terri will be the first to tell you, life in Bradford County isn’t for everyone…especially the young, single and super-social:
“If you’re a real socialite and love visiting museums and go shopping regularly this area may not be for you. But even then, you have Jacksonville and Gainesville so close by that you don’t have to be isolated. Once I got married I loved it here, it’s so central to anything you want to do.”
For families, couples and retirees Bradford County boasts a wealth of benefits including lower property taxes and that down-home Southern feel.
“It’s all about peace, quiet and personal space,” says Terri.
Here are 9 more reasons people move to Bradford County:
- Plenty of affordable land—for farming, hunting and recreation
- Fast access to multiple lakes—for boating, fishing and water sports
- An easy commute to two major cities—Jacksonville is 30-45 minutes or Gainesville is 30-45 minutes
- Nearby vacation spots such as St. Augustine (90 minutes) and Orlando (2 hours)—for shopping, dining, day trips, or weekend get-aways
- Close proximity to the ocean—under 90 minutes to beaches and The Intracoastal Waterway
- Easy access to the outdoors and state parks—Manatee Springs, Ginny Springs, Ft. White for tubing and numerous state parks
- Lake Living and Retirement Communities—Lower taxes, lower cost of living on numerous lakefront properties
- A thriving agricultural community—residents are very supportive of young farmers, you can keep any type of livestock and you can grow a variety of crops
- Abundant fresh water— building a pond here is as easy as digging a hole which makes irrigation easy
Who is moving to Bradford County?
Terri says retirees like the location for the lower cost of living and lower taxes.
“We get retirees from Jacksonville and Gainesville, people looking for a slower paced life. Also, Bradford County attracts families looking for more affordable land with an easy commute to Jacksonville or Gainesville.”
“You’re not going to find a lot of new subdivisions out here, it’s mostly rural land or older subdivision homes.”
And with plenty of space, generous tax exemptions (more below) and an established agricultural community Bradford County is an ideal location for mini-farms, homesteads, or recreational land.
Setting up the Ideal Property for Pleasure and Tax Benefits
Though the area is dotted with wetlands, living near swamps offers a lot of benefits to land owners. Terri explains:
“The nice thing about Bradford County is that if you want some water all you have to do is dig a hole. Creating ponds helps dry up your land a bit too…then you can sell the fill dirt to your neighbor!”
Terri says new land owners should also plan on doing some land-clearing, but not too much:
“It’s a big timber market here, there are a lot of timber producers and loggers around. On our land, we used to have cows but we decided to get rid of the cows and plant pines instead. It’s a great long-term investment and allows you to claim agricultural exemptions.”
But the land exemptions don’t stop there.
“If you keep some of your land with timber, then you can claim that portion as an exemption and the other portion as a homestead exemption. As long as it’s your primary home you can take the homestead exemption, it’s protected and limits increases on your property taxes.”
Other ways to get that agricultural exemption include growing corn, blueberries, grapes, or even raising goats or other farm animals.
Goats and a donkey graze in a grassy wooded field on Terri's farm.
Setting up Farm—animals, crops and wildlife
In lieu of trading in their cattle for pines, Terri and her husband now keep goats and chickens on their land.
“I walked into the Bradford post office one day and thought, what in the world is that sound? All I heard was peep, peep, peep, peep. I looked over and saw a box of mail order chickens. I had no idea you could order chickens by mail. So we did!”
Terri’s husband decided to order 36 “biddies in a box” because he thought some of them wouldn’t survive…he was wrong.
“We were getting over 18 eggs a day from those 36 hens! We were giving away eggs right and left. Now we only have 9 chickens so that’s a bit more reasonable.”
They keep the goats as meat goats which they sell at auction or to neighboring farms.
“We also have grape vines and blueberry bushes, my late father-in-law had a vineyard and offered u-pick. Blueberries are really big here, and a lot of the local fruit stands sell strawberries, silver queen corn, muscadines and scuppernongs.” says Terri.
As far as equipment goes, for property and road maintenance they keep a tractor, bush hog, front-end loader and zero-turn-radius lawn mower.
Wildlife is also prevalent on the property as Terri explains.
“One thing that’s so cool is that when you drive onto your property you’ll likely see wild deer and turkeys. I was driving down our road yesterday and had to stop for 1 deer, then another. Then when I was running this morning I had to stop for 12 turkeys and their babies. It’s really amazing.”
Despite their proximity to the swamp, alligators aren’t an issue though they have occasionally seen evidence of black bears.
“The bears aren’t anything you need to be afraid of.” Terri says “They’re more afraid of us then we are of them and they don’t bother our animals. You just need keep your trash locked up and food out of their reach.”
A well-kept secret?
Bradford County may have kept a low-profile over the years, but word is getting out about this quiet, peaceful and convenient rural location.
With affordable land, farm-friendly tax exemptions, low living costs, plenty of recreation and close proximity to two metropolitan areas, Bradford County may be one of North Florida’s best kept land-investment secrets.
Rethink:Rural's parent company, Raydient Places + Properties, has rural acreage for sale in the area. Click here to view available land for sale in Bradford County.
All photos courtesy of Terri Hall.