Photography by Sarah Priestap-Porter
Which came first, children or farming? Did you have reservations about either, or were you destined for both?
Farming! My husband and I came to farming together when we quit our jobs in San Francisco, and we ended up on my cousin’s farm in North Carolina. She was raising her 10-year-old twins there, and she made it all look so natural and healthy. It formed our desire to someday raise a family on our own farm.
Is there any sage advice about farming that you think applies to raising kids?
My dad has always said all kids need is “sunshine, food, water, and love.” Nick and I have taken his advice to heart, and we provide our kiddos and the animals with the same four basic needs.
Do you hope to pass along your lifestyle to your children? If so, how do you think it will be different for them – as science and technology get more and more integrated into our food?
It is certainly a dream of ours that our children take over the farm someday, but we aren’t so naive as to assume it will happen. We are giving them a childhood immersed in the land, surrounded by hard and honest work and away from pervasive, all-consuming technology. My hope is this will give our children the tools they need to be good, honest, hard-working humans, wherever they decide to live and no matter what they decide to become.
My son, Leland, asks for what he calls “Misty Milk.” Misty is the name of our milk cow. Leland refuses to drink milk from the store during the winter when our milk cow is dry. He’s four. That isn’t snobbery, it’s just his honest preference for taste. Through this childhood, they will come to know – and hopefully, prefer – real fresh food.
I imagine, like raising kids, farming is an around-the-clock commitment. How have you and Nick avoided burn out?
It is exhausting, but the farm comes in cycles (unlike kids!). Spring is the beginning of our year. We are super busy and crazy and worried and stressed as we get the animals out on pasture and everything starts to grow so fast.
Summer is a lot of hard work, but more tempered than spring, and more rewarding as you begin to harvest the bounty of field and garden.
Fall is a beautiful time where the animals are finishing up their rotations on pasture, the barn and larders are fully stocked with winter’s provisions, but the weather is still stunning.
Winter is our time for rest and contemplation, for planning for the coming year, and for work in the forest (logging, firewood collection for the next year). All of the animals are in the barn and barnyards, and everything is quiet.
Can you recount a memory that encapsulates your experience as a farmer raising young children?
We very rarely can leave the house at the same time to do a farm chore as one of us is always looking after the kids. Sometimes, a farm chore requires both of us, like castrating little piglets. Just last spring, a litter was born, and after breakfast, Nick ran out to the field and scooped up all the little boy piglets that needed castrating. He brought them into the kitchen and we made quick work of it all on the kitchen table with Leland watching with equal parts interest and ennui. I assure you, we washed the kitchen table vigorously afterward. But that is parenting and farming – so often both are intertwined out of necessity.
Kate MacLean and Nick Zigelbaum came to farming together, eight years ago, when they quit their big city jobs in San Francisco (Kate at Facebook and Nick at the NRDC) and moved to Kate’s cousin’s farm in North Carolina. They quickly became dependent on the lifestyle and decided to commit their lives to farming.
Today, together with their children, Leland (four) and Amelia (one), they run Longest Acres Farm in Chelsea, Vermont. There, they organically raise cows and sheep, pasture pigs, and are host to a smattering of chickens, guineas, geese, dogs, and gardens.
Kate and her sister, Fiona MacLean, are currently writing and illustrating a children’s book about the adventures of these animals. To follow along with the adventures of farming with young children see them on Instagram @longestacresfarm.
📷 Sarah Priestap-Porter is a freelance and wedding photographer who resides in the mountains of Central Vermont with her husband (Jeff) and fur babies Arlo (dog), and Glaumur (horse). You can view her personal work here.