CHRISTINA & MATT
Seattle to Ellensburg, Washington
Abigale and Michael would be the first to tell you that their successful city to country journey involved a lot of luck, but for this tenacious couple, their dedication and tireless work ethic created their opportunities, luck had very little to do with it. Abigale and Michael had both been working in the service industry in NYC for many years and had grown accustomed to that lifestyle. They loved their lives in the city, but all the while they felt like something was missing. All it took was one trip to Maine in the summer to get them planning their escape from NYC. They immediately emailed everyone they knew to see if anyone had any leads on places to find work. As soon as a prospective cooking school job opened up, the couple left their lives in the city and set off for the great unknown. Their first few months in Belfast, they enthusiastically worked lots of odd jobs before landing at an established and respected catering company. Their ability to seamlessly manage enormous events, without showing any signs of stress or strain, instantly impressed the owner of the company. At the end of the season, the owner approached Abigale and Michael and asked if they would be interested in buying the business from her. Instead of shying away from the opportunity presented, they jumped in headfirst. In just a few years, they have become one of the most in-demand and high-end catering companies in Maine. They cater events and weddings all over New England and are booked solid in the summer wedding season. They are insanely good at managing difficult variables, like hosting a giant wedding on a tiny island with no electricity or running water. Together, they are unstoppable, getting strength and inspiration from one another. Because their summers in Maine usually fly by in a flurry of events, they love the quiet downtime of the winter months. They especially love that their life they have created for themselves in the country allows for a month-long getaway in Mexico every February, to reset and prepare themselves for the upcoming event season. A year ago, they bought a building in town, one block from their catering kitchen. Their urban-style loft would be completely unattainable in NYC but here they are able to live in a space that feels uniquely them. It isn’t a country farmhouse, like many others featured on Urban Exodus, but it proves that there are many different ways to live in the country. You don’t have to be out on farmland somewhere, you can live in-town and still be connected to the pulse of the small community you call home. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country and start Green Bow Farm?
Matthew and I started a little urban farm in our backyard in West Seattle years ago when our oldest son was just a baby. It kept growing, first it was just some fruit trees and chickens, then we added on as many raised beds as we could in our little yard, then even more chickens, then some beehives, and filled a hill that was beneath our backyard with as many blueberry and raspberry plants as we could fit without taking over our neighbors yard. I always go back to the first time we killed and cooked a rooster for our friends coq au vin style and that whole experience of raising and knowing where our meal came from. It was satisfying being able to feed people and nourish people with food we grew and raised. We just wanted to do more but we were running out of space and large ruminant animals are unfortunately frowned upon in the city limits. So we initially started looking for a small homestead property right outside of the city but when we started looking farther east of the Cascade Mountains we realized owning a larger farm and having lots of animals and large gardens was a real possibility. So it wasn't escaping urban life that made us take the leap but really the desire to farm on a larger scale. Just recently we moved from our original 22 acre farm to a 55 acre farm that was a 100 year old family farmstead and dairy. So I guess our interest in farming and feeding people just doesn't slow down.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
We could afford more acreage farther a way from the city but the piece of land we bought was a blank slate without really any infrastructure. So the biggest challenge was building infrastructure while also teaching ourselves how to farm since we never worked on any other farms and also learning how to take care of sheep and cattle for the first time plus the daunting task of then also trying to figure out how to make money as farmers and not just have it be a hobby we paid to do.
What surprised you most about farming full time? Did it meet your expectations?
Isolation for sure. Matthew had worked with arts organizations in Seattle for over a decade and I had worked as a manager at PCC a natural food co-op so were both used to being a part of much larger communities. We really didn't find farms that were farming the way we do especially not with young kids so it took us several years to build up a community. I personally have put on several farm to table dinners with a local organization I started with friends called Harrow & Hive and we just hosted our first farm to table dinner on our new farm this year and it was so rewarding to feed over 100 people the food we grew and raised along with over 10 other local farms surrounded by the land and animals that provided it.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
Lack of choices when it came to access to healthcare, education, or just basic goods we needed to build things on the farm. When you are trying to build something in one day you have to plan weeks in advance because local stores generally don't carry what you need. There isn't a huge amount of doctors to choose from so we frequently have to leave our part of Washington if you need specialists.
What things do you wish you would’ve known ahead of time that would have eased your transition from city to country life?
If we didn't have three young sons I would have definitely gone to work on more farms even just as a temporary volunteer. We visited a lot of farms but nothing really can make up for on the job training. That is also one of our biggest ongoing hurdles how to balance farm and family life. Kids have no interest in working 12 hours a day and sometimes that is what farming demands.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
We do a farmers market once a week in West Seattle where we moved from and we frequently visit their with our kids to go to museums or other events but that seems like plenty to us. I don't dislike urban life I lived in cities for over 30 years before we moved to our farm but its just not something I think about much.
What do you appreciate the most about life now?
I like that we have multiple jobs. We both wear many hats running the farm together and not one single day is the same. We get to take care of the animals, the soil, build infrastructure, work with the community, teach people about sustainable farming, but most of all we love to feed people and teach people the best way to cook their local food thats in season. Giving people that power to feed themselves and their community is endlessly rewarding.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
That is such a hard question to answer because its so dependent on where you choose to move. I personally was very set on moving to an area that was somewhat near a college and had a thriving art community. Secondly we wanted to be within close driving distance to areas that had larger farmers markets like Seattle because we knew we would be doing direct marketing of our farm food. I would just do lots of research. Just because a place looks beautiful and pastoral doesn't mean you will be able to make a living there or find a community that you connect to.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Small Sustainable Farms are the answer to so many of our environmental and economic problems. If we invest in the farms that are feeding their communities and building healthy soil we get that investment back ten fold. My passion and Matthew's is to teach people about the value of local food and also teach them how to cook their local food so it tastes its best. So much of our food economy is dependent on fast and cheap it takes quite a bit of a paradigm shift to get people to invest their dollars into local sustainable food. Farmers are at the forefront of making this shift and I see so many young farmers taking up that role its very inspiring and it keeps me going.
What are some of the hardest lessons you’ve learned while building your farm?
No matter how hard you work to provide the best possible life for your animals you are sometimes powerless over mother nature. Weather and Predators are our biggest hurdles and even with our best intentions things go sideways sometimes and you lose animals. Every year you can learn from those experiences but there no way to make them stop happening all together.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away from the city?
So many changes but we went from two young sons that were toddlers to three sons of grade school age so besides farming and rural life its really hard to even compare what we were like 6 years ago. We are busy 24/7 that is for sure and our kids are not afraid of mud, manure, animals, or insects. They are pretty fearless and its hard to imagine they would be like that growing up in the city. I have to say though its not a totally idealistic life for them. We have very few weekends off together, we rarely take a vacation, and we talk about the farm and the farm business constantly so they are around when we have to have very serious conversations about the farm or even around when we have emergencies on the farm. It's a childhood with a lot of freedom and interesting experiences but it breaks my heart sometimes when the kids ask why we never go on vacation in the summer only in the middle of January but then they also can't imagine life without all the dogs, sheep, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and cattle. It all evens out.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Being more involved in politics and community organizing. In the city those things didn't draw me in as much but there is such a huge need for it here. There is fewer social services than the city and fewer non profits but I find so many people willing to pitch in to make a difference in their community.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
One of our favorite farms we used to visit us that always inspired us to farm more was Jubilee Farm in Carnation, Wa.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
That people living in the country are uneducated or all have the same views. In some ways when it comes to politics I find life full of a much more diverse group of people as far as views and life experiences. The flip side of that is a huge lack of diversity when it comes to different cultures, religions, and ethnicities in our small town. It is one of the biggest down sides I have found to living rurally and something I try to talk about with my sons so they don't grow up in a bubble. It is slowly changing as our county and local university grow but it is very slow.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
In March of this year we moved onto and purchased the Mason's Jersey Dairy farm and homestead that the Mason family lived on for almost 100 years. The farm has great soil, senior water rights, and a ton of infrastructure but it is also in disrepair. We had to work on the fencing, irrigation, and water distribution but we have also been working to restore the original dairy barn. We turned the dairy area into a commercial kitchen to be able to process chickens under our state license, make value added products like bone broth and herbs/salt rubs, teach classes, and soon we will have our own farm store open. In the store we will sell not only our grass-fed meats and eggs, plus Icelandic Lopi yarn and soaps but other food from local farms like fruits, veggies, and grains. It's been over a year and a half process of getting the loan for the farm, moving, selling our other farm, and doing lots of infrastructure work but we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Our dream is to build a place for our community to gather around food. To buy it, to sell it, to learn how to cook it, and learn how to preserve it. We hope by Spring most of our big projects will be done and we will be ready to take on another busy season of farming and opening even more people up to richness and diversity that local food has