COLERIDGE, NC – Most newlyweds start their lives together with a honeymoon. Tracey and Rob Ben-Or chose to turn their honeymoon into a “farmingmoon.”
What’s a farmingmoon? Let their website explain:
“Amateur farmers using our honeymoon as an opportunity to visit small farms and homesteads around the world, and record some podcasts along the way.”
The couple, married on May 3 in their backyard in Israel, decided to set aside three weeks to visit farms in Europe and the United States to find out how they want to become farmers. While searching the web for sites to visit, they found Ozark Akerz Sustainable Farm on Instagram.
Ozark Akerz, located on Parks Crossroads Church Road north of Coleridge, is owned by Mike Hansen and Sue Meyers. They raise Pineywoods cattle as well as various free-range birds while tending an extensive garden.
Last week, the Ozark Akerz couple entertained the “farmingmooners,” showing them around the farm and grilling Pineywoods burgers for lunch. They also provided insights on how to get started in agriculture.
“For our honeymoon, we wanted to see other farms and find out what we’re interested in,” Tracey said. “We want to start doing farming for real.”
Currently, they rent a cottage on a quarter-acre lot north of Tel Aviv. Their postage-stamp farm is large enough for three chickens and a small garden, not to mention a large pomegranate tree, under which they exchanged their vows.
The Ben-Ors are Americans, she having grown up on Long Island, NY, and he in St. Louis.
Rob has been to culinary school and now co-owns a “street food shop” in Tel Aviv called Bunny Chow. Tracey earned her MBA from Tel Aviv University and has had her own wedding-planner business. Now, however, she works part-time for a local organic farm and creates custom floral arrangements on the side.
BUT THEIR goal is to be farmers. According to their website, www.havatbenor.com, “Together we share a love for nature, animals and growing food and flowers. Our dream is to build our own small-scale farm that is ethically driven and a source of sustainability for our family and community.”
Hence, their farmingmoon tour, which took them to Italy and the United Kingdom prior to arriving in the US. They visited a half-dozen small farms in Vermont and New York before coming to North Carolina, where they spend nights with Tracey’s sister. They leave Sunday to go “back to reality,” according to Rob.
“I think it’s been invaluable,” he said of the trip. “We feel much more sure about our decisions. And we’re not just visiting farms. A lot of it is driving and talking about how we want to take our experiences back.”
“We saw things that are possible for us to do,” Tracey added. “We both know it’s important to map things out before spending money. Some (farmers) have other incomes.”
“Part of our income may end up with an Airbnb,” Rob said.
The young couple met in 2015 at a friend’s wedding in Israel. Tracey was still living in New York, which meant a bi-continental long-distance relationship. She moved to Israel for good a couple of years later.
They have a number of decisions to make before starting their own small farm. But first, they want to “work on someone’s farm and get experience,” Tracey said.
Meanwhile, another trip may be in the works in the coming months. The Ben-Ors would like to visit farms on the West Coast of the US and in Europe, and “see what farmers do in Israel.”
Tracey noted the growing movement in the US, particularly among young farmers, to be sustainable – with no sprays, few antibiotics, free-range animals and rotation crops and pastures. She said the idea is to “support other farms and don’t try to do everything.”
Israel has its unique problems, not the least of which is a dry climate. “There’s not a lot of water,” Tracey said, “so they have to be innovative in irrigating.”
Rob talked about the Negev Desert in southern Israel. “You’ll be driving on the desert in the middle of nowhere and then see green for two or three miles” where a large farm has transformed the desert into a garden. That requires expensive desalination of sea water and drip irrigation, he said.
WHAT’S POSITIVE about farming in the desert, Rob said, is that the government sometimes offers funding for those willing to try it.
No matter where they decide to farm in Israel, it’s almost a given that they’ll have to start out leasing land, since the price of land is very expensive. “We need to be flexible in what we do, go where the money is and work with the climate,” he said.
“On our trip, we’re learning from other people and exposing ourselves to people doing cool stuff,” Tracey said. “We now have a small garden, where we’re testing. We feel ready to take the next step, to help other farms before going on our own.”
“We’ll be searching, looking for places,” Rob added. “We’re going to go full-time working in agriculture. We want to get a year or two of solid work with others, then reevaluate to see if we can do our own thing. We’re big believers in apprenticeship-style learning.”
Another factor they’ve considered during their farmingmoon is the economics of farming. “We have to put up capital,” Tracey said. “Of the farms we’ve looked at, some have family support and others have a lot of debt.”
Hansen seconded that: “You can’t spread the money out. We had a lot of upfront costs,” including some $20,000 to fence in the pastures.
When Tracey mentioned the importance in England of community farming, Hansen agreed, saying, “That’s what we learned. Our neighbors have been great” in helping them get Ozark Akerz started.
Despite all the unanswered questions, Tracey and Rob are pretty sure about one thing. “I think we like cows,” she said.
“Yes, we’d like to work with animals,” Rob said. “They may be more meaningful to us than vegetables.”
“Cows have more personality than vegetables,” Tracey added. “But how are we going to visit family if we’re stuck to the farm?
“We love chickens, too, and we will have chickens,” Tracey said. “Or, we could go back and do it totally differently.”
Rob likened their decision-making process to a puzzle. Each factor, he said, is like a piece of a puzzle.
“I think it’s like getting puzzle pieces together,” he said. “You take those and figure out how they fit together to build a picture.”
Here’s what Ozark Akerz owners Mike Hansen and Sue Meyers had to say about the farmingmooners:
“Their farming philosophy was exactly the same as ours, which considering the age difference was very encouraging. Sue and I felt like old millennials. We love their passion for farming the way our grandparents (their great-grandparents) did.
“Our advice was to find breeds that would work well in their area. That’s a big part of sustainable farming.
Pineywoods work great in North Carolina, much better than we thought they would. The heat tolerance and the fact that they eat grass, wild herbs and other native plants, shrubs and vines makes them perfect for our farm.
“We suggested that they look at Zebu cattle. Apart from that, we didn’t really give them any advice. We showed and told them about how we farm and put it into context for sustainable farming. We also encouraged them to define what sustainable farming means personally to them.
“Before we started farming, we had one definition of sustainable farming, but with time and experience, we have come to discover that our personal definition of sustainability is different from other sustainable farmers.
“For example, we don’t vaccinate the Pineywoods herd. They have built up a disease and pest resistance from centuries of running wild, a tolerance that we believe we can eradicate with a few generations of vaccination. Not vaccinating has its risks and not all farmers (sustainable or not) are willing to take that risk, but we believe we will be doing this endangered breed a disservice by doing what vets generally recommend.”
To follow Tracey and Rob on their farmingmoon adventure, visit their website, www.havatbenor.com. They have podcasts, which will continue to be posted regularly.
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