Divide and Conquer

Zach Fickle Creek

As we continue to work toward our goal of running a successful small farm, we’ve moved into a second stage of development: Divide and Conquer. While Christina is traveling around the US, charming butchers and market managers and scouting the surrounding area for livability and unmet demand for the products we want to produce, I’m learning how to produce these things at the kind of scale we’ll need to survive. It’s tough to be apart during this important phase in our lives (and right before we get married to boot), but we don’t want to spend years searching for a new home and we decided that this was the fastest way to make progress.

So until Thanksgiving I’m working as an apprentice at Fickle Creek Farm near Durham, North Carolina. While it’s still a small farm, Fickle Creek is pretty big. We’re nearly 300 acres spread across several properties, and active at five markets year round. But what’s best about Fickle Creek is that it’s so diversified. Similar to the way Christina and I have spread out the responsibility of our farm project, here at Fickle Creek we have a variety of products to minimize risk and spread out the workload. Everything here is dual purpose: the ducks lay eggs and eat slugs from dormant garden beds, the pigs eliminate invasive weeds while stuffing their snouts to make our bacon, and the sheep keep the grass at bay while pumping out a few lambs every spring. It’s one big organism.

It can be tempting to say that we want to just get really good at doing one or two things. But that’s not realistic for small farmers. We need to be good at ten things so that if one of them fails it doesn’t bring the ship down with it. And animals are very good at the few things they know how to do. If you provide them with a few basic things, they’ll work for you rather than you working for them. It takes a heckuva lot of planning and careful execution, but the reward is a life of pride in what you do.

It’s taken a lot of patience for us to get this far, but it finally feels like we’re moving forward on a plan that’s now been years in the making. Updates here will be less frequent than in the past, but stay tuned. Big things are happening.


Returning Home


It’s a strange feeling trying to acclimatize to a new culture, new meal times, new language, while also planning for our return to the states. For the past year, we’ve moved from one country to another and learned a new set of customs every month or so. Next week we’re returning to what we call our home, what is supposed to be normal, except it hasn’t been our home for a long time.

When traveling, you’re always planning the next step. In Indonesia, we were looking into how to get a SIM card in Nepal. In India, we were making plans for Turkey. You are booking flights and researching hostels, looking at exchange rates, local foods and significant cultural sights.

But planning for the next chapter of our lives is much different. Our planning involves researching health insurance, used car prices and reading profiles of cities in the US that might be our next home. We have been doing all of this from farms in Spain. In the morning we have been working outside harvesting beets, sorting dried beans, or cleaning out silos. But at lunchtime, I’m Skyping with Leticia at the Maryland Health Connection office and Zach is sending out applications for farm internships in North Carolina. We are returning to our country, but starting something new.

I have to admit, I have a whole boatload of feelings about coming home. I’m dying to see my sister and my niece that I haven’t yet met. I’m ready to have a living room again. There are bits of American culture that we haven’t seen (or eaten) in a year and a half: chicken wings and a Lagunitas IPA, Netflix and Midol and well paved highways. But every country has it’s pros and cons and spending time living with folks in other countries has helped me realize that there are more ways of living than the go get ‘em culture that is so common in the US. In New Zealand, we learned to slow down and have a chat with the neighbors. This often involves tea and cake. Nepal made me realize how easy and comfortable and clean we have it in the States, but also how many regulations we have (you’d never be allowed to take a sheep on a bus at home).

I’ve come to enjoy the small towns that we’ve stayed in and hope, as we transition out of our backpacks, to make our home in an adventurous place where kind people work hard and enjoy their lives. So though our trip abroad is coming to a close, our travels continue as we find a new hometown in the US of A.


The Boston Bombing Made Me Feel Feelings

Boston Syria

I’ve written this post four times in the past week. The titles have evolved from: Seriously? The Marathon? WTF? to On Being Mad at America to It Happens Just About Everywhere to the final and very profound title I settled on.

A few months ago I asked an American friend, who has been living on this side of the world for a few years, if he would ever go back to live in the states. “Maybe when they stop shooting one another,” he replied, only half joking.

Hmph. Good point.

Since we’ve been gone, our country has experienced the Newtown shooting and the school shootings that followed, tons of shit I haven’t kept up on, and now the Boston Marathon bombings.  I mean schools? A marathon? Is nothing sacred? It’s infuriating. I don’t want to live in a place where you can get blown up for doing something commendable and challenging. Like teaching. Or running a marathon. It’s not normal, but it seems like it is becoming so. As normal as going to see a movie.

Living in New Zealand while my country goes through traumatic times feels a little like standing on another planet and peering out at what is going on over there. It is easy to forget about the rest of the world while living in a small (hobbit) town in the middle of the ocean. There aren’t massacres, guns are for hunting, and the media isn’t totally insane. It’s refreshing, but also uncomfortable when I know friends are hurting. You can’t give hugs from half a world away.

For a minute there in the week of feelings, I was starting to think that America is totally effed. That I couldn’t go back. Canada, maybe. I was pretty down on our  country and our government (as if we are the only country that has problems). But then I started talking to our friends here in Wanaka, who are from all over the world. Our friends from Northern England who won’t walk home after dark, or those who have traveled in Africa and China and listened to stories of violence and fear all over the world. Listened to friends describe the kinds of things that I skim over in the newspaper every day (okay, once every two weeks when I look at the newspaper). The kinds of things that happen to them, in those countries, where this kind of stuff happens all the time. And to many people, this stuff happens all of the time in America. People shoot each other. Things get blown up. Unfortunate, but those things happen there .

I guess the point is that it has been an interesting experience being surrounded by non Americans and seeing the spectrum of reactions from my own quiet, livid feelings to compassion to totally not surprised. Or maybe the point is that it sometimes being away is hard. I don’t know what the point is, which is why this post is titled The Boston Bombing Made Me Feel Feelings.

Laura McClain, Matt Ford, and friends in Boston, I’m sorry we aren’t there to do some sorrow-drowning shots and have some hugs. You guys have been on my mind lots recently.


Old Bay in Da House!

Old Bay-5953

Last week we met Dan from Maryland. I am from Maryland. We met on the internet through, you guessed it, the Facebook. He lives on the North Island of NZ and was cruising through Wanaka while on vacay, so we met up for some grilled lamb chops on the lake front. He came bearing a can of Old Bay. Old Bay is what home tastes like. If you aren’t familiar with it, it is the seasoning that is heaped on steamed crabs, which are a local tradition in Maryland. It is the seasoning that gets in your nails and up your wrists when picking crabs for hours on end, it flavors your corn and your french fries when you use said grubby hands during your intermission between crabs, it scums up your beer can, and inevitably gets all over your jean shorts. And now it is here with us in Wanaka.

The thing is though, we don’t have any crabs. The can says that it is perfect for “seafood, poultry, salads, and meats,” but what it should be followed by is, “if you don’t have crabs or shrimp.” So today it went on brussels sprouts and was awesome. Not the same (how could it be?), but the sprouts were an excellent Old Bay delivery system.

Roasted brussels sprouts with Old Bay

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