ON THE FARM
WNW Member #176 Owen Katz is taking full advantage of his freedom as a freelancer. Between stints at Google Creative Lab, Wieden+Kennedy, and M ss ng P eces, Owen has volunteered on farms in Europe and South America, where he is able to break free from the city and his role as a producer. Owen let us in on his inspirational experiences and why he likes to get his hands dirty.
1. What made you want to go to Argentina, Italy and Spain and work on a farm?
Awesome night skies, unplugging from the fast lane, clean air/food/water/thinking were all considerations, but the main reasons to volunteer abroad were/are cultural exchange and learning. Living with families and working the land taught me a lot more than just when to plant leeks.
2. What’s the hardest part about working on a farm?
Digging, lifting, schlepping several hours a day can be very difficult in 90 degree heat… while wearing heavyweight overalls... in fields of allergens. But truthfully, the hardest part was waking at sunrise.
3. How do your skills as a producer come into play?
Other than making a color coded spreadsheet to help determine which farms to work on, zero ‘production skills’ contributed to volunteering on a farm. And that is another major reason to do it.
4. How has the freedom from being a freelancer affected your lifestyle?
Our time and energy as our personal resources are finite and extremely valuable; freelancing allows me to select how I spend my time. I can spend it working my ass off shooting or spend it working my ass off hammocking in Galicia. Both are rewarding, but I need a balance to be a happy person.
5. In what ways do you apply these experiences abroad to your freelance work?
These ‘extracurricular activities’ keep my batteries charged and provide a steady stream of shit to learn.
6. What are the chances you give up your clean producer hands for your dirty, callused farmer hands full-time?
Pretty small: While thoroughly rewarding, making a living as a farmer is extraordinarily difficult. Very long hours 10 months a year, and if you raise animals, 12 months a year. You’re at the whims of the weather, pests, luck and the margins are very slim. A family of 6 that I worked with in Patagonia had yearly earnings equal to 4 hours of telecine. That is well outside my comfort zone… maybe a bit too far.
7. Do you farm in NYC? Where?
There are tons of farm volunteer opportunities in New York. I’ve worked at Added Value in Red Hook, Eagle Street Rooftop in Greenpoint, a school garden in Bed Stuy, Hudson Valley Fiber Farm, Garden of Eve on Long Island and Red Jacket Orchards in Western NY.
"This was a farm that made fruit preserves at the foot of the Andes Mountains. near Mendoza, Argentina. They grew cherries, apples, stone fruit, as well as vegetables and chickens."
"The raw honey from these bees is so thick and fragrant. It is the main sweetener for cooking and coffee and helps against allergies, as well as helping to pollinate the fruits and vegetables on the farm. Thousands of bees live in each box."
"We walked the sheep like dogs on a leash to a new grazing area every week or so when we cleaned their pen. They eat anything they can reach."
"This is a photo of my tent right next to the strawberry fields on a farm in Patagonia. I slept under the stars every night, listening to the wind and watching the sky. And I drank a lot of wine..."
"This is a close up of a bunch of young sangiovese grapes. We spent afternoons cleaning and pruning the rows and rows of vines as the sun set behind the rolling hills."
"This long exposure was from a farm near Mendoza showing Orion upside-down flying across the southern sky."
"These are tomatoes and homemade bread from the farm in Galicia, Spain. Lunch was a gigantic: fresh tomato/pepper/cucumber salad with oil, salt and vinegar, hunks of bread and honey and often local fish. Everything but the fish, oil and salt was made on the farm."
"Farmers are loathe to throw things out, especially equipment. This is a 50-year-old Italian tractor that was on the property when the current owner bought it in the 70s. To fire this up every morning, you pour boiling water into the engine, drag it behind a truck and fire the starter. And of course you have to replace a fully pumped tire."
"Feeding a calf from a special Argentinian breed out of a bottle in Patagonia."
"This is me with a baby sheep in Patagonia. This farm sold wool and meat for generations and is the last of its kind in that area."
"Probably don't need an explanation for this baby chicken."
"This is a photo with a 'sapa,' a 2 or 3 lb semi-circular hoe that is used for pretty much everything on the farm in Argentina. By the end of the 2 months, I could shuffle a deck of cards with that thing."