Farmers: Nick Zigelbaum and Kate MacLean
Location: Chelsea, Vt.
Specialty: Meat and dairy heritage-breed livestock
Swayed by the thoughts of rural living and food production, Nick Zigelbaum and Kate MacLean left their office jobs in San Francisco to intern at her cousin’s pastured pork farm in North Carolina. You know how the rest of the story goes: The pair fell in love with livestock management, and their internship turned into full-time positions.
“We were so in love with the land, the animals,” MacLean says. “It was the first time I had thoroughly enjoyed my job and worked as hard as I possibly could because I loved it. That felt good.”
Fast forward to today: The pair owns and operates Longest Acres Farm in Chelsea, Vt., where they raise a variety of heritage-breed animals, including American Milking Devon cattle, Ossabaw pigs and Icelandic sheep. The farm’s social media presence has helped them grow to their current level of success.
“We are able, via platforms like Facebook, Instagram and my blog, to relay to our customers how we raise our animals and what we have for sale,” MacLean notes.
I see our biggest success in the cycle of life and death on our farm. We operate a nearly closed herd of Icelandic sheep and American Milking Devons, which means we only import other animals—mainly bulls and rams—when we require more genetic diversity. At first, we invested in a few breeding animals for each herd, but now we see each animal through from birth to death. It’s our mission to provide our family, neighbors and greater community with meat from animals that were raised with love and dignity, and I see our lack of need for buying in animals as the fruition of this goal.
Finding a willing market for our meat is our biggest and most consistent challenge. The price tag on our meat adequately reflects what it costs to raise the animal with a very modest profit for us, yet this price can’t compete with the price of meat from factory farms. When middle class Americans are struggling to pay their own mortgages, their morals seem to take a back seat at the supermarket. I have a firsthand understanding of what it means to have a tight budget, but I don’t believe others—people or animals—should suffer needlessly for my survival.
I have one piece of advice for those starting out: lease land. Leasing land is a way to drastically cut your operating costs down on a farm. In many rural and even suburban areas, you can lease land from your neighbors for a song. I recommend investing in a home base for your operation that has a barn, or storage and a few acres, depending on your vegetable, livestock or forest needs. With this base, you can then lease land around you, thereby increasing your size but with no need for mortgages and large monthly payments. Many landowners are eager to keep their land in agricultural use, both for the health of the land and for tax breaks. It’s a win-win for both parties.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Hobby Farms.