Kate MacLean is the matriarch behind Longest Acres Farm, a thoughtfully operated organic livestock farm based in rural Vermont that she operates alongside her partner, Nick Zigelbaum. Kate is also a writer who is widely celebrated for her clear-eyed but inspired portraits of agrarian life.
A decade ago, Kate did not spend her days homesteading in dungarees and muck boots but instead had a successful career at Facebook. Her life would drastically change after a hiatus to an isolated region of the French Alps to caretake a family member’s property. Kate became enraptured with the town’s food culture, and partook in the “hyper-localized and hyper-independence of food” there.
Greatly impacted by her time in France, Kate left her corporate career at Facebook. She spent two years at her cousin’s farm in North Carolina (it was only supposed to be one week) and eventually relocated to her current home at Longest Acres. Here on the 220-acre farm, Kate and Nick are raising their two children Leland (7 years old), and Amelia (turning 5 in May). Kate’s parents and sister also reside on the property.
Family and farming are priorities in Kate’s life, and in celebration of Mother’s Day, we wanted to check in with this multi-faceted and talented mother. We chatted with her about spring in Vermont, animal husbandry, and the joy of raising “naked little farm kids.”
What is Vermont like in the spring?
I am washing the kid’s winter mittens right now, thinking, is it too early? I don’t know if I can safely put these away. Spring is a very nebulous concept here. It’s different every year and is certainly changing with climate change. Typically, we don’t melt out until April. This year it was March. It’s in the 50s and gray, but once things do melt out, spring is suddenly here.
What is your ideal spring day?
Letting the kids outside without all the layers of clothes. They are very outdoor-centric kids. They go down to the creek or get into the garden. My son got an incubator for his 7th birthday, so he is raising baby chicks.
Being able to return to a causal relationship with the outdoors is something we all really cherish.
How you balance the realities and challenges of having a farm, while still appreciating and celebrating the joys of that profession?
This time last year we had this adorable little calf, Hooray, who was weak and could barely walk and was being rejected by her mother. She lived in our kitchen for a couple of weeks, and she would moo when she was hungry, and the dogs would clean her face when it was covered in milk. It was this very magical and beautiful time.
One day I came home, and Hooray was peacefully dead in the sunshine. The children were heartbroken but are also accustomed to death on the farm.
We are teaching them about the fleetingness of life and the sacredness of it. To embrace it and hold it, and when it goes it goes. When I first began my experience with animal husbandry, a chicken would die, and I would be wrecked for days. And now, there is no time to mourn it. I try to not lose that place in me that respects each individual life, but also understanding that it is fleeting.
What else has animal husbandry taught you?
The importance of marrying practicality with ideals.
Why is it a priority to you to raise animals from birth to death?
We can say with honesty and certainty what that animal’s life was like. We can take full responsibility for that animal, and what its experience was. We want to see that whole cycle here. Make sure those mamas are treated well, that those calves are treated well. It is very important to us.
The animals are with us until they are slaughtered 20 mins down the road from our farm. We sell to chefs, and they use the whole animal. Chefs are amazingly resourceful and are wonderful customers.
What is your favorite part of raising children on your farm?
I think the independence that rural life gives children and entrusts them with is invaluable. It is what keeps Nick and I here raising them. We are creating capable and independent children.
The most challenging?
When your work is at your home it is hard to draw the boundaries, that is the trickiest part. Making time for home instead of always working. The farm will just take, and take, and take.
How have you made the distinction between home and work?
I don’t know if we have been successful. (laughs) We decided to separate the businesses, I manage the homestead, and Nick manages the farm. This has enabled a division of labor. We have our friend Grace helping with the children, as well as my mom. We set a goal of an 8-hour day, though I don’t know if we ever achieve that goal.
What would you like to do this Mother’s Day?
I’d like to spend the day in the garden listening to a podcast alone with nobody talking to me. (laughs) Also, my younger sister is due this weekend with her first baby. If my niece isn’t here by then, I’d really like to be an aunt by Mother’s Day.
What are you listening to or watching right now?
I really like political podcasts. My exposure of farming and food has been very saturated, so I try to bring myself into the greater world with my consumption of news. It helps keep me informed.
What are you currently reading?
The Overstory by Richard Powers. It’s such a good book, and the winner of a Pulitzer Prize. I
highly recommend it.
Favorite current children’s book?
We’ve read every single one of Roald Dahl’s novels, which can be super weird and dark, but wonderful and fun. We read between 20-30 children’s novels this winter. I have never been the kind of mom that likes to play, but I will read to them until my mouth falls off.
If I had to pick one to recommend beyond the classics, a contemporary children’s novel is the Wild Robot, by Peter Brown.
Favorite music for your children?
They listen to a lot of 70s music, currently Paul Simon. My son prefers classical music, Bach’s Goldberg Variations. They love to dance to Lizzo too. Whatever I am listening to the kids will listen to. Bluegrass to hip-hop to classical.
Spring or summer essentials?
What I would recommend to any woman who works outside in any way, are my Handyma’am overalls. They are made in Virginia and are incredible. They allow me to go from my bathrobe to fully dressed in 25 seconds. Also, Gamine Co. For homesteading, my garden supply LED grow light. For shoes, Redbacks. They are Australian and they last for a very long time. I have had mine for 5 years.
What about spring or summer essentials for your children?
Not really. My kids are like little naked farm kids who don’t need anything. (laughs) They are pretty low-maintenance children. I shop vintage and eBay for both of them. I try to not have any products for them.
Favorite Spring Meal?
My absolute favorite is Ottolenghi’s green couscous recipe. It’s couscous with every herb in the garden super finely chopped up, mixed with olive oil, and sauteed onions. The herbs are what I crave in the Spring.
Any special projects for this spring or summer?
My friend Dougie Ross Le Ber and I are going into business for brand marketing.
We are also looking forward to 2022 and having events again on the farm.
Where can people connect with you?
For more on Kate MacLean, follow her on Instagram at @longestacrefarm