EVAN & LULOO

FIRST-TIME FARMERS

New York City to Ancram, New York

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Evan and Luloo were working in the service industry in New York City, when their boss, restaurateur Antonio Gomez, asked them if they would be interested in running his new farm in Upstate New York. Midwinter Farms now supplies most of the produce and meat for his seven New York City and Brooklyn restaurants (Gruppo, Posto, Vezzo, Spunto, Tappo, Mezcla and Brado). The newlyweds knew literally nothing about farming or raising animals but after living and working in the restaurant business for almost a decade, they yearned for a fresh start. They knew with their powers combined, they could face any obstacle put in their way. After only a few months of planning, they embarked on their journey as farmers. They devoured farming books, read online forums and sought the assistance of kind neighbors to build Midwinter Farms. They were also tasked with renovating the historic farmhouse and cleaning out the barn that had been packed with the hoardings of the previous owner. Despite discovering that most of the farmland's soil wasn't viable, their first growing season was an incredible success. Eventually, they took on raising pigs and chickens for meat and eggs. Luloo and Evan hold their animals in the highest regard and Luloo tends to get teary-eyed when she talks about having to send them to slaughter, as she also happens to be a vegetarian. In their first year farming, they haven’t had a moment's rest to fully appreciate all they have accomplished, but an outsider can see immediately how much work has gone into reviving an old homestead and farm. From lugging all of the giant rocks (uncovered by frost) from the growing fields, to erecting a seven-foot fence to keep out the deer, they have completely transformed the land into a productive farm. Evan and Luloo are the perfect example of people who were able to set their minds to something and figure it out. Their journey to the country proves that you don’t have to have a background in farming in order to run a farm, you just need the energy, enthusiasm and patience to build it from the ground up.(Click here to jump to their interview)

 

www.evanmann.virb.com

What inspired you to move to the country? 

Evan: We were approached by our boss of ten years to help him start and manage a farm to raise the food that would go to the restaurants at which we had both been working. It had long been a fantasy to live the country life, but without a job prospect it couldn't happen. At this point we were both actively pursuing a major change in order to move past the service positions we were stuck in, and so we jumped on the offer.

 

Luloo: Adventure! I’ve asked myself for the past couple of years “how can we live upstate, make money, and enjoy the bounty of this beautiful place?” Then came along this wonderful opportunity from our boss to live upstate AND make money by becoming his farmers! The universe answered. Although I always thought we’d still have one foot in the New York City door. I never thought we’d actually live full time in the country.

 

 

Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? 

Evan: As I mentioned, we were both trying to move ahead in different directions, having been in a slump at the restaurant. Easy money is hard to leave. We were both making progress in our dreams, actually both at a real turning point, and really excited to take a leap in a new direction that could still afford us our lifestyle in the city. So that was a huge test. Do we stay here and keep up the momentum towards a new career, or do we take this new and totally out there challenge and get to try out life in the country?

 

Luloo: Well, things really got moving in the winter. The worst winter we’ve had in years. Evan and I continued to work in the restaurants (we did pare down our shifts a bit) while coming up to here to intern on a farm, while looking for properties, then acquiring one and working on the house, and cleaning out the mess of a barn the previous owners left behind. We had to get out of lease early and then schlep all of our stuff from our 6th floor walk up, in multiple truckloads to and from the city. We’d come back Friday afternoon, work our shifts all weekend (and yes, we would still partake in after work beers with friends). We had to read endless amounts of books about farming, learn how to become homeowners (we spent weeks on end painting and managing contractors) and we did all of this for about 3-4 months before taking that final leap into that dark, quiet, endless land of beauty. The hardest part out of all of this was leaving family, friends, and our sweet little apartment.   

 

 

What challenges came later?

Evan: Well the challenges are forever mounting. From moving to an 18th century house in the beginning of one of the longest and coldest winters in decades, to clearing out a home and property that was kept as a hoarder's paradise for half of a century, learning how to build the infrastructure for a farm while starting our herds and garden at the same time, and trying to get our bearings in this foreign world all at once.

 

Luloo: Everything! It was brutally cold and snowy. We have a brand new tractor that we have to use to plow and we have NO clue how to use this amazingly expensive piece of equipment. Building and planning, and really waking up everyday knowing that there is so so much stuff to do, yet most of the time you just don’t know what it is, and maybe more importantly, how to do it. Fortunately, our good friend who also happens to manage the pizza restaurants, recommended her cousin to come work with us...or rather for us. That made me even more nervous because now we have to be someone’s boss, and we have no idea what we are doing ourselves. But, he turned out to be amazing; full of knowledge, patience, and crass as all hell. He was great to work with and a lot of fun. Oh, and coming up with a farm name took us about 6 full months of brainstorming, debating, and chucking them to the curb. Mid Winter Farms really got us though.

 

 

What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?

Evan: I have been pleased by the kindness and weirdness of our neighbors, though I did expect both. I am still taken aback by the wealth, both in culture and property that exists out here. The city of Hudson and its neighbors both on the east and west side of the river offer what we miss about the city, so it puts us at ease.

 

Luloo: I’m not sure. Maybe how much we’ve really taken to it, or maybe how much my husband has. I grew up in a country bumpkin area in NJ, I don’t think I ever doubted that I would acclimate. I wasn’t sure about Evan, but he makes my heart swell every day with his ease and grace. There’s this whole other side that I didn’t know about. I suppose too, that everywhere we go around here we meet people our age who are starting farms or doing interesting things. I think most the younger farmers we’ve met have a ton more experience than we do, but I guess that just make us more unique. I’m actually not too surprised to be meeting so many like minded people since there has been this huge push to move back to the land, it’s just so amazing to see it and meet the folks who are doing it. We’ve also met lots of locals (farmers and non-farmers) who are really cool and proud of what we’re doing, but there’s always a few who will take one look at us and expect us to be, in their term, a citidiot. Thats ok though. We don’t mind it.

 

We had no idea what to expect honestly. Sure, we knew there would be lots of hard labor, lifting, sore muscles, tons of animal shit. I suppose I expected that we would have some very hard days not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, with each other and myself. There are days where I experience frustration like I never had before, maybe because I because I believe in what we’re doing so much, but don’t always feel like we have the knowledge to get things done. We are learning a whole new way of living, combined with learning a ton about mother nature. But when I get to look at this beautiful mountain everyday when we walk back to the house from the field, and I see my husband and our pup running around in our vast, beautiful surroundings, it makes it all ok. That was unexpected.

 

 

What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?

Evan: Not being in New York City is not being in New York City no matter where you are. No public transportation is a big one, especially when all the fun stuff is always a 20-minute drive at least. Just riding a bike or walking wherever you want to go gives you so much freedom, not anymore. And you can kiss goodbye the 24-hour lifestyle. You are lucky to find a cafe open when you are hungry, even if it's noon on a Wednesday.

 

Luloo: The hours a farmer keeps. I am a morning person, but this was still something to get used to, and we still are. Sure, I miss Sunny and Annie’s Deli (at 3 in the am after a night out with friends), and a good cup of coffee whenever and wherever you want. People watching, and just the general closeness you have with all people in NYC.

 

I think becoming a farmer, a property owner, and a pseudo homeowner was, and still is the hardest thing. We’re used to waking up everyday and saying to each other “what crazy, stupid, or unexpected thing will we be in for today?” The piglets have eye infections, chicks have splayed legs, a pig has a broken leg, tomatoes have blight, maybe a very sweet neighbor and a very weird neighbor will pop by today. One time four of our pigs escaped their pen and we had to get them back in - you never know what surprises a new day will bring.

 

I am a vegetarian and I had to learn to butcher chickens. I also have to load our pigs up a shoot and onto a trailer to bring them to slaughter. In terms of the animals, I have a VERY hard time parting with them. We have daily chores to do, which require feeding, watering, and pen cleaning for the animals, but it’s also the time of day (twice a day) that I get to hang out and get to know them. Raising animals was one of the major reasons for taking the job, I am an animal lover. We are the stewards of a lot of little, and big lives on this property and it is nothing to take lightly. Animals deserves respect and a nice life while they are on earth, especially is they are being raised to eventually nourish the lives of others. I think as vegetarian raising animals for meat, I can bring something different to good animal husbandry. I know by having a good relationship with our farm animals, they will be happier and trust us more, which I figure will lead to better meat. Why wouldn’t you want to look at happy animals on your farm? 

 

 

Would you ever go back to an urban existence? 

Evan: Absolutely. I love new experiences and don't see myself stopping the journey just yet.

 

Luloo: Oh yeah. But who knows when and where. I think it's silly to say that you're just a city person or a country person. If everyone had a chance to try both, I think they'd love both. 

 

 

What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?

Evan: I love the quiet times, walking through the woods and exploring new places. But I loved the city in the same way.

 

Luloo: The view. Everywhere we go is more beautiful than the last. And of course the space! Moving from a little 2-bedroom apartment to a 4-bedroom house is kind of awesome.

 

 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?

Evan: No advice really. Just try something new. The city will always be there, but the country may not.

 

Luloo: Stop thinking about it and do it. Of all the places that you could move and screw up and get into trouble and blow all your money, it probably won't happen out in the country. At worst, you'd go back to the city with dirt in your boots and fresh air in your lungs. 

 

 

When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?

Evan: Get together with friends. Eat as much good food as possible. And go to bed very late. A lot can be done in a day.

 

Luloo: Call my buddies, meet at the dog park, and have lunch at Mogador.

 

 

Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?

Evan: The inspiration comes from a life of travel, observance, and trying to impart some of what I gained from both. As a people we have lost control of much of what we used to take for granted. We have given away our individual rights to entities who show no concern for our current or future existence. Today's food movements are making strides to go back to a more intimate relationship with the foods we eat and who produces them. We hope to be a small part of that consciousness. 

 

Luloo: From everything I look at everyday. You just want to get out there and grow good food and hang out with the animals. The animals are awesome, as are my husband and my dog Sunny; they’re the best things on this farm. When I see those two running around the fields in sun, snow, falling leaves, and the pigs grazing just in the background and the garden growing up to the sky, there’s nothing more that I need.

 

 

Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?

Evan: I have become a more focused individual, though at times more confused. A major change in lifestyle will do that to a person. This is all new to us and the malaise takes hold sometimes, but it is better than being in a rut. 

 

Luloo: I suppose I haven’t had enough of a break from learning this new career to do some self-reflecting. I’m happy, we’re happy, and that’s all that matters.

 

 

Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?

Evan: A general day begins early, though not at dawn, with chores. Feeding the animals, making sure they have water, and saying good morning. As this is a new farm, we are constantly building as we go. And now with the change of seasons, we are racing to turn those summerhouses into winter shelters. Most days are a struggle to stay ahead and keep on schedule, especially as demand grows for what we can deliver. There really is no comparison to my previous work week. I only worked a 12-hour day on occasion, now it is nearly every day.

 

Luloo: It depends on the season, but I usually wake up by 6:45, have coffee and breakfast, then depending on the season it either takes a minute to get dressed or 10. Evan and I alternate animal chores week to week, so that usually takes about an hour or so. Maybe most farmers don’t spend as much time with animals as I do, but it’s partly why I took the job. I fill the feeders and water buckets, but also check and make sure all is well, no sickness or injuries, and then I talk to them and scratch them, you know, we kind of just hang out. Then I move on to projects and weekly chores. Today for instance, we butchered chickens which took a few hours, installed and automatic chicken door, built chicken ramps, had lunch, harvested some veggies, cleaned up the rows that are done for the season, clean the rabbit hutches, clean and pack about 10 dozen eggs, and do evening chores.

 

 

Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?

Evan: Shoot guns and wield a chainsaw in the middle of the night. Though I have experienced my neighbors in the city doing both.

 

Luloo: Our whole life here is about doing what we couldn’t in the city. I did try and grow herbs on our fire escape but it was a mess. I much prefer doing it here.

 

 

Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired? 

Evan: Whenever I finish a grueling project or see my animals living happily, that is always an affirmation.

 

Luloo: Taking in the view from our kitchen window of our field with the chickens and pigs. It's pretty awesome doing dishes now.

 

 

What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities? 

Evan: It's just as much of a melting pot out here; lots of interesting and crazy people. In fact a lot of our neighbors are from the five boroughs. But don't be surprised that everyone knows everyone.

 

Luloo: That it’s boring or slow. It’s all about timing. That makes all the difference in a person’s experience. We lived in the East Village, on a great block, in a great apartment. I knew tons of people on that street just from passing them every day, some of our best friends live in that neighborhood, and we ate and drank at a lot of the same places over the years. I already feel like we lived in a small community, we’ve just changes places and faces.

 

 

What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?

Evan: This year was a race to build a producing farm from the ground up in a matter of months, and we succeeded. Now we need to make plans to do it better, slower and easier. If we can make it through our first full winter, we will have made our next goal. And then hopefully we can get this funny farm under control and take a long vacation. 

 

Luloo: I think it’s pretty much what we did last year, but better! With most of the infrastructure built (hopefully by spring) we want to be able to move the animals around the pasture, and to slaughter, seamlessly, and we want to our veggies to be healthy and sky-high. After another year under our belt, I think can start discussing growing mushrooms, tapping maple trees, greenhouse production and starting a huge herb and flower garden. I’m not sure what will happen over the next few years, but I know we can do almost anything we want out here in the country.

 

 

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