Nadia on farming, her biggest lessons so far and what’s next…
Nadia Lim has never been someone to shy away from a challenge, and this is no more clearly demonstrated than in her latest and biggest project yet. The chef, author, former winner and judge of MasterChef NZ, and co-founder of My Food Bag, took over the running of Royalburn Station with her husband Carlos Bagrie more than three years ago.
Located on the Crown Range between Arrowtown and Cardrona, it is one of the largest working farms in the Wakatipu Basin. Recently, the couple opened up their property and lives on the TV series, Nadia’s Farm, which documented the realities of farming as they build their lives in Otago.
With filming complete, Lim managed to find time to sit down and talk to henry about her passion for sustainable and ethical farming practices, what she’s learned and the exciting reason she’ll be slowing down this summer.
What prompted you to do the TV show?
“We feel like a generation ago most Kiwis had a direct connection to farming – whether that was through an uncle or aunty having a farm or grandparents or close friends. But today of course that’s more rare than it is common so now most Kiwis haven’t even set foot on a real working farm and therefore there is quite a disconnect with how food is produced on scale and gets to people’s plates. So we saw this as an opportunity to open up our farm and show people what actually goes on on a working farm.”
What have been some of the highs and lows of farm life?
“You do have to become quite comfortable with not having predictability, consistency and control over a lot of things because every season is so different. You could have a really good season one year and the next can be a terrible season and that’s all generally, down to the weather.
Our farm is unique in that we’re very diversified, and we also supply direct to market. We do everything from lamb to wool products to free range eggs, honey, hundreds of tonnes of different grains and seeds, sunflowers for oil, barley for malting beer, and 1.6 hectares of organic market gardens that supply around 50 cafes, restaurants, and businesses, including our own farm shop in Arrowtown. We wanted to have a true farm-to-plate farm.”
“We have spent the last few years building a team, building infrastructure, experimenting and getting systems and processes in place. Some parts of the farm are profitable, whilst others are not yet. The goal would be to make all the areas of the farm profitable of course!”
Do you find time to cook at home?
“I don’t get much time to cook in a leisurely sense anymore and that’s purely because there’s always something else that needs to be done. I don’t have spare time to experiment in the kitchen and cook at leisure unfortunately and I do really miss that. I think my cooking has changed a lot as well because we’re creatures who very much eat according to our environment. So when we were in the city we had a lot more exotic, different ingredients at our fingertips.
Now we are 80% self-sufficient with our food, which is great but also means that sometimes our diet isn’t as varied or interesting. We’re lucky that we have the highest quality ingredients – organic vegetables from the garden, our own meat and eggs, honey; we even cook with our own sunflower oil but you don’t get all of the fancy things that you could get when you’re in the city. I could go out and get them but I feel I should use what we have and eat according to our environment.”
Why do you and Carlos make a great team on the farm?
“We’ve been together for half of our lives now. I met him when I was a teenager at university and we were instantly very compatible professionally because of our interests. He’s very much a man of the land. On our second date he said to me: “If we end up staying together I need to let you know that one day I’m going to go back farming” and he said it to me in a way to see what my reaction was and I guess he was very pleased when I was very enthusiastic about the idea. I think from that moment on he was like ‘OK, we can move forward together’. And then of course with my obsession and love of food, it’s just like the perfect partnership. A man of the land who’s obsessed with growing and planting and producing, coupled up with someone who loves food and loves being able to share that with consumers.”
Biggest learnings from farming so far?
“There’s ideology and then there’s practical application, and that’s again where Carlos and I have been very compatible. I’m often the book reader, who will read the books on soil and everything and I understand it because I have a science (nutrition and dietetics) background. He’s grown up on a farm so he has gone through the real world applications of these things. Generally speaking there’s got to be a balance of ideology and practical application. The key is how do you curate the perfect balance between the two.
I have also learnt that all farming systems, whether conventional, organic, regenerative etc… all have their pros and cons. I don’t know if there is really any one right answer. Like many things, there are more shades of grey than black or white.”
What food do you enjoy eating in the warmer months?
“We eat what we grow so our diet is extremely seasonal – to the point we’re overloaded with a particular ingredient at one point and you can get sick of it. In summer I’m a big fan of really simple food, like lamb cooked on the barbecue with a really good salsa verde, a simple salad, driven by whatever is in the garden at the time – a handful of grains like bulgur wheat or quinoa or barley, mixed with some fresh seasonal greens and some other colourful vegetables like roasted beetroot, pumpkin or cherry tomatoes. Then add some salty flavour punches like chopped up bacon or a little bit of feta and an amazing dressing. You can’t beat a really good homemade dressing.”
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
“That actually I’m an introvert. I’m one of those introverts that’s in a very extroverted role. I love people and I love talking to people, especially when the topic is food and farming, but I’m one of those people who could happily potter away by themselves for months and be fine with it. I’m very comfortable just being by myself.”
What are your plans for summer?
“I’m expecting baby number three in summer, so I’ll be trying to refrain from taking on any new projects and hopefully taking some rest time over summer before the little one arrives.”