LANE & MERYL
Portland, Oregon to Lisbon, New Hampshire
It was late March when Urban Exodus visited Lane and Meryl Nevin’s Prospect Farm. The winter had been particularly brutal in their corner of the world, with constant ice storms, heavy snowfall and sub zero temperatures. It was Sunday, Prospect Farms CSA pick up day, and Lane had already used his tractor to pull three customer’s stuck vehicles out of the deep mud and snow melt that blanketed their road. Lane and Meryl laughed and shrugged off the stresses of farming through a cruel winter, “Just part of job description.” Lane and Meryl left their city life in Portland, Oregon in 2008 and set out to start their own farm. In Portland, Meryl was studying photography and Lane was studying and writing screenplays. Although they loved Portland, they decided they couldn’t see themselves as professional artists or staying in an urban environment. Every weekend and free moment they had in Portland they found themselves heading to the mountains to hike and camp, eventually they realized they needed to make a lifestyle and location change. Lane shared “The Dream” with Meryl - the dream of farming, as a couple, and building a life in the country. With that dream in their minds, the couple left Portland and homesteaded in Maine for two years before moving to Vermont in 2011 to start farming. Once they arrived in Vermont, they dove in head first and started Prospect Farm straight away, living in a small uninsulated trailer, without running water or a working bathroom, and renting land to farm from a family member. They lived in their trailer in Vermont for over a year and the winter months were rough, soothed only by an electric blanket Meryl’s mom had bought them. In the winter they would have to thaw their dog’s water bowl each morning and arrange the occasional shower at friend’s house. In the summer, they would hook up a hose for a little sink and outdoor shower. When they were offered a home and farmland to rent, at a reduced cost, by a program encouraging young farmers to plant roots in New Hampshire they decided to leave Vermont and move their business to the neighboring state. It took several years to build their CSA and scale their business. They dropped vegetable production because that market was saturated and focused their efforts on producing pasture-based meat. Now, three years in, they have established a loyal CSA customer base and sell their meat products at local grocery stores and area farmers markets. This year they are focusing on expanding their CSA membership. Lane and Meryl aren’t ones to sugarcoat the hardships of running a small farm, but they love this life they are building together. As they continue to streamline their operation Meryl is finding time to pick up her camera again. Meryl has had a few shows of her images taken on and around their property and also uses her photography on their farm blog. Through hard work, determination and unwavering support of one another, this couple continues to build “The Dream,” of their Prospect Farm. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
Lane and I are originally both from rural New Hampshire and we met on an island in Maine while in college. After college we wanted to try an urban setting. I had been accepted into Pacific Northwest College of Art, to study photography and printmaking, so we went off to the city of Portland, Oregon. We lived there for two years before moving back. Lane was interested in screen writing, so between the two of us we were immersed in the Portland arts community. It was truly an amazing experience that I think we both needed before “settling down”. But we quickly found ourselves packing up and leaving every weekend to go hiking and camping with our dog. First thing on Friday we would head to the wilderness, and then not return to our duplex until Sunday night. It became clear we needed a rural home.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
My favorite thing about living in Portland was that we were able to walk or bike to most places we needed. When we returned to rural living it was a drag having to drive everywhere again.
In Portland, I had an opportunity to teach art to at-risk youth, which I was developing into a career path in the non-profit sector. After moving back east it was very hard to find an art position that would have been the right match. Now that I'm thinking about it, this must be why I agreed to start a farm when Lane whispered “The Dream” to me.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
I am sure I will always wish we had more culture and diversity in our daily lives, but happily we live 3 hours from Boston, 3 hours from Montreal, 2.5 hours from Portland, Maine, 2 hours from Burlington, Vermont and 5 hours from New York City. So we are actually in a great location. I never feel too isolated because I know these experiences are available and we occasionally are able to visit them.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
I trust myself and my senses in the country. I am ultra aware at the farm and I like that. I know to investigate if I hear or see something unusual. In the city, I felt my senses were muddled, attempting to tune out unusual noises opposed to react to them.
I appreciate that there is an abundance of natural resources where we live and that we are able to properly utilize and respect them. In the city it is easy to feel disconnected and wasteful in certain ways.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Don’t be intimidated. It is a natural way of life and you will be able to pick it up.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
While I have always had a passion for the humane treatment of animals and for food transparency, I began farming as a lifestyle choice before fully grasping what a movement we were entering, especially here in New Hampshire, where our small-scale agriculture roots are not as historically strong as in our neighboring states. We often have to pioneer our way through new experiences, which can be challenging, but it also builds our passion as we see progress.
I am also deeply inspired by Lane, who is incredibly hard working. And by our future together.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
I have become very utilitarian. I’ve also become less social than I was before we starting farming. I’m never that motivated to leave the farm. I think partially because I am tired at the end of the day, but also because I am really satisfied at home.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
In the city I would wake up and run with my dog to the dog park. Go to work or school, then meet up with Lane to have a beer or take time to shoot (with my camera). So simple. I think a common misconception is that rural living is simple, but there are so many elements to consider with this lifestyle. My day-to-day experiences change drastically with each season. The winter is a whole world in itself that brings a lot of unexpected elements to our days. In the heart of summer, we wake up, drink coffee, and go over what needs to be accomplished within the day and within the week. We remind each other of tasks we are each responsible for, and make sure we are on the same page. If we did not do this our lives would spiral into a whirlwind of chaos. Sometimes we do the chores together and sometimes Lane will do the chores while I answer emails, coordinate slaughter schedules, contact customers, write CSA newsletters, and basically sell our products. Then we will typically do a midday project together, like move animals or build something. Today we are chain-sawing up two trees that fell down from a storm we had the other night. We might have a customer stop by to pick up a pork roast. Yesterday a local artist called who wanted a pig heart for an art installation. Everyday is surprising. We try to have a plan and stay organized but often there are other elements that determine our days.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
The type of farming we do would not be possible in the city, so basically everything.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Walking around the property at sunset is my favorite. That golden hour where everything seems backlit is my zen time. Lane and I have a couple of secret swimming spots that are our safety zones in the summer, and could heal us from anything. Lane also loves to fly-fish at the very wee hours of the morning. It is his time to get inspired by nature and helps him reduce stress. He always comes back from fishing so fired-up, he could conquer literally anything after catching a trout.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
It is not always romantic. The seasons can be brutal. I see this in the photos you took, as we were really ready for that wild winter to be over. Down right jaded! Like I mentioned before, it is not a simple life. The days tend to be either too long or too short. It is worth it though, at least for me. I get to spend everyday with my partner in life, and together we do the work we love.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Oh man…so many things. I want a milking cow and a few Icelandic ewes, neither of which will probably happen because we are trying to remain focused on our growth. Which is so hard for me! But 2016 will be really exciting for us because we can stay at the same level of production, and learn to master this current level as opposed to stumbling our way through more expansion.