If you’ve seen the movie We Bought A Zoo, a 2011 Cameron Crow film about a widowed father who buys a rundown zoo with his two young children, you have a modicum of understanding for the journey that OES teacher and dorm dean Julie Sikkink and her husband just embarked on.
If you watched We Bought A Zoo, and want to think of Julie as Scarlett Johnansson and her husband as Matt Damon, that’s okay too.
Just a few months ago, Julie and her husband bought 100 acres of farmland just outside the small Oregon town of Banks in Manning – a town only famous for housing the only Dairy Queen along that stretch of the Oregon coast.
When they bought the farm, the property had and still has no house on it, “just a barn and a shed, and that’s it,” Julie told me. The well has to be restored. And the farm is a long way from making any sort of profit.
So the obvious question is, why’d you buy a farm?
Julie and her husband have wanted land for a long time, and they both have connections with farms. Julie’s husband Daniel worked on an 18,000 acre commercial farm in Southeast Kent in England during his teenage summers, and the romantic appeal of farming remains.
In fact, Daniel paid his way to travel the world during his early 20’s with money earned from farming over 100 hours a week, working with grass and grain. He also did bee keeping when the family lived in northern Wisconsin, and Julie said that in various ways farming was, “something in the background of our lives for a long time”.
Julie’s family owned a hobby farm when she grew up in Minnesota, so they both have some experience with farming, and the rest they’re figuring out as they go.
It’s not easy, and Julie described the experience as, “a little nerve-racking”. The farm is about 30 minutes outside of Portland, but with Julie’s job teaching and in the dorms, and the house where the family lives, the commutes are exhausting.
But it’s worth it. The land that the farm is situated on had been on the market since 2009, but was overpriced. When the bubble crashed, and developers figured out that they couldn’t build on the land and that it would only be useful for farming, the price dropped further.
It was a chance that Julie and Daniel couldn’t pass up. They got their finances in order, and made the leap.
There is a state park cutting down the property, but that hasn’t been bothersome. In fact, it makes the farm a hotspot for foot traffic – and one of the dreams of the farm is to be able to, “sell raw milk at the gate” to people who walk up.
At the moment, the goals for the farm aren’t overly audacious, and entirely admirable. Julie says that we want to “feed ourselves well,” and we “we want the farm to pay for itself.”
Of course, buying a farm and transitioning lifestyles is a brave thing to do. Julie is giving up her job in the dorms, though she will continue teaching at OES. Daniel is also leaving his jobs, and working fulltime on the farm. But this is about something bigger than money.
Right now, there are two milk cows, three calves, six piglets, 31 chickens, two puppies (already over 80 pounds!), and frequent visits from black bears.
Julie and Daniel’s oldest daughter, Charlotte – OES Class of 2009 – fed up with her parent’s technological ineptitude, set up a Tumblr account for the farm. It’s called Wingham Farms, after the town in England where Daniel grew up.
What’s more, there’s abundant joy and hope in the farm. That’s what counts.
Visit the Wingham Farms Tumblr Account Here