KATE & NICK
LONGEST ACRES FARM
San Francisco to Chelsea, Vermont
To get to Longest Acres Farm, you must follow a long maze of dirt roads, without any signs. Just when you think you have certainly taken a wrong turn, there is a radiating light beckoning at the end of the forest overhang. The road continues to an incredible clearing with a pond, lush farmlands and pastures. Longest Acres Farm is 120 acres in total, with 30 acres of open pasture. Kate MacLean and Nick Zigelbaum, along with their beautiful boy Leland, are some of the kindest and happiest people I've met. They immediately took to farming and have truly found their place in the world. Although the work is hard and the are days long, they embrace each morning and focus on their triumphs instead of the many hard lessons they have learned their first few years farming. Kate and Nick met in San Francisco's tech world. Nick was working as an engineer and living in a house with lots of others and Kate came in as a temporary roommate. Kate began working at Facebook shortly there after, when it was still in its early days. Her role was to help translate the site into other languages so that it could expand to larger markets. After several years in the city together, they yearned for something more, something tangible, something simpler but more fulfilling; a life that they could build together. They went to work at Kate's cousin's farm in North Carolina and then a CSA in western Massachusetts, gaining invaluable farming experience. After a couple of years working for others, they began looking for properties in the North East where they could build their own operation. Before they even toured the property, just a few feet from their car, they immediately knew that Longest Acres was home. Their son Leland arrived shortly after moving, so all of their accomplishments have been achieved while raising their young son. Leland is able to run around barefoot, chase the chickens and come on farm rounds attached to his mother’s hip. His parents have brought richness to his life that someday he will fully appreciate. People have been farming the land that Longest Acres Farm sits on for hundreds of years, which provides this wonderful family some comfort when things don't always go as planned. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
While we were still living in San Francisco, we were casually offered a housesitting gig for Nick’s aunt in the French Alps. I said yes immediately. It took about 5 days to convince Nick. We gave ourselves the summer to save up money, leave our jobs, and sell the contents of our apartment. We lived that winter in a 200-year-old stone house in a village of 12 residents. We had a flock of chickens and a bilingual cat named Jules. I spent most of my time trail running in the mountains and Nick worked for a butcher. With the fear of sounding entirely cliché, I can tell you we fell in love with French cooking. But it wasn’t the haute cuisine of Lyon or Paris. It was good solid country fare. Dark sourdough bread, sun-orange egg yolks, milk as thick and as yellow as eggnog, boudin, sheep's milk yogurt, canned tomatoes from my aunt’s garden. Everything was cooked in leftover duck fat. That winter we essentially destroyed out of gastronomic greed and ignorance the entirety of our aunt’s larder. In addition to the staples she had put by pesto, tomatoes, canned pears, black currant syrup, and several cases of red wine. We ate like kings. Since that fateful winter, we’ve never wanted to live in a city again. We wouldn't be able to afford to eat that well in a city. We knew we needed to live in the Country where we could make the delicious food we wanted to eat.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
The hardest part was leaving two good paying jobs. Nick worked at NRDC and I at Facebook. Leaving the security of income was tough, but ultimately worth it. In the past five years we have had stints here and there with regular paychecks, but they aren’t easy to come by. The very seasonal nature of farming doesn’t often allow for a regular flow of money.
Equally hard, has been acclimating to the different social beast that is making friends in the Country. There is no office now, no public transit, no coffee shops nearby, no yoga class. There are very few accidental ways to see and meet friends in the Country. So, we have learned to be very intentional with our socializing. We have many dinner parties. Often, we will host 3-4 times a week at our house. It is wonderful doing the dinner shuffle from one house to the next, especially in the winter. Without it, the solitude can be overpowering.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
It’s not easy, or ‘simple’ to live in the country. In fact, it’s much harder than the city where everything is conveniently provided for. I thought, and was worried, that it would feel a lot like an early retirement. But the truth is that here on the farm we work so hard every day of the week. Much of your survival here depends on your own work and sweat. There are no weekends, or holidays. Every day the animals, the farm, the gardens need to be tended to in some manner.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
We are quite remote by New England standards. Our town has a gas station and a bakery but not much beyond that. To get to a hardware store, the food co-op, a movie theater or a restaurant is a good 40 minute drive. Obviously, that remoteness is what makes the life so special here. There is no noise or light pollution here. But, that peaceful quiet beauty comes at a price. I do miss the convenience of the city where everything is within a matter of blocks. I miss that convenience especially since having a child. Errands have become doubly urgent and doubly hard.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
I can't imagine an instance why we would.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
I appreciate the quiet here the most; both in terms of sound and distraction. When I am in the fields, I can literally hear the woosh of the wings of a raven as she flies above me. I know that there is an active coyote den in the woods to our east. I know there is a bear that lives on our northern hillside and a heron in the summertime that enjoys our pond. I know this all because they are my neighbors, and because we have the luxury to listen and watch as we live alongside them. That sort of attention to the natural world is nearly impossible in the City. If we can't hear and pay attention to the natural world then we can't respect it. Sadly, most of us can't or don't hear and pay attention and so we are aiding and abetting the exploitation and destruction of the natural world.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Do it. Give yourself a set timeline. We gave ourselves 6 months. Cut way down on your city spending (it is insane how much money you can spend in a city without even paying much mind to it). Save up in those 6 months and then go. Life is too short to spend it surrounded by concrete.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Seriously, we search out food that is as different as we can find from the traditional eggs, beef, veggies and milk we consume every day on the farm. It is the main reason we ever visit the city.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
I am inspired when I have quiet. It allows me to sift through all that I experience on the farm. I search out that quiet, while trail running, working with the animals, hand milking my cows or goats, and with walks with my son and dogs through the woods.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away
from the city?
I speak less, and am more contemplative before I do speak. We move more slowly and methodically through projects. I think this is very valuable; slowness. Everything I did in the City was rushed.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
Rise with the sun. Tea. Chores (milking, building pasture, throwing hay). Breakfast as a family and informal farm meeting. Farm project (fencing, garden prep, tractor maintenance, etc...). Prepare dinner/lunch snack. Return to working in the fields or barn. Run. Supper. Early to bed. Rinse, Wash, Repeat.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
I spend a lot of time outside at night, by myself. Before moving here I was so scared of the dark, especially the dark of the woods. Which is so silly. The woods are so safe, and so majestic at night. Since becoming a mother a lot of what I do on the farm is done at dark, when the babe is sleeping. I find with a headlamp and a dog with me, I'm no longer afraid of the dark.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
The northern pasture, overlooking the farm where the old homestead used to sit, is my favorite place to take in the entirety of the farm. There I can think about how it is all doing as one mooing, breathing, quacking body. On the other hand the hemlock grove in the woods behind the house is extraordinarily peaceful and quiet. It is a place I seek out when I want to quiet my brain and focus in on one particular thought.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
People think that living in the country means life is simple. I used to think this too. The application of this word to country life drives me nuts. It is insulting. Raising, growing, harvesting, slaughtering, your own food and heat is anything but simple. It is complex, stimulating, hard, infuriating, and fulfilling, but not simple.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
We will begin our pig breeding program in addition to the sheep and cows. We are also hoping to begin a series of farm dinners in the big barn in collaboration with a chef/friend and several other farmers.