12 October 2023
Finding their Farm
WRITER: as told to Lauren Jackson
PHOTOGRAPHER: Vivian Gehrmann
Ngā Hononga. Common Threads.
Moving is never easy, least of all when you’re headed across the ocean to make a home in a new country. But that’s exactly what these three women have done: found their place in rural Aotearoa, farming with their partners. Meet Charlotte Plummer, balancing her veterinary career with farming in Morrinsville; Ann Henderson, who actually inspired her non-farmer partner to pick up sharemilking in Milton; and Ilka Seebeck in Balfour on a sheep and beef farm. They share what brought them here, why they’ve stayed and the satisfaction they find in their new lives. Here’s Charlotte’s story.
Top image. “New Zealand is beautiful, like the UK, just with way less people,” Charlotte says. “Everyone’s way more chill. The UK used to be a really agricultural country, and it’s been massively squeezed. Here, whole towns are dedicated to farming. That doesn’t exist in the UK any more. From the beginning, I just felt really at home here.” Above. A little reminder of home. “My friendship circle here came from Morrinsville-Ngarua Young Farmers. That’s how I met Jack – he was there.”
I’d always wanted to come to New Zealand. It’s easy to get a vet job here; we speak the same language, and my degree is recognised. And I knew you guys had dairy cows, which is what I wanted to do. I come from a dairy farm in a tiny little village called Stanton St Quintin, between Bristol and Swindon in the UK. I studied to be a vet at Bristol University. For three years, I had a really nice job in Thame, near Oxford. I’d always wanted to do my OE, so I literally typed “cow vets New Zealand” into Google. The practice I currently work at, The Cow Vets, came up first – although we’re called The Farm Vets now.
They offered me a job for three months, so I came over, and with a bit of travelling three months became six months. My parents came out and we did the South Island tour. I said goodbye to Mum and Dad at the beginning of March 2020, planning to be home by August. Three weeks later, we were in lockdown – and here I still am.
Covid changed everything. I worked through the lockdown, because we were an essential service. When we got out of lockdown in May, the UK was a shit show. So, I thought, “Okay, I’ll just do another calving season here.” I had all these places in New Zealand I still hadn’t been, so I made this big list and worked through it with friends. One of those friends was Jack Isherwood. I ended up spending a lot of time with him – we went on lots of fun adventures.
Calving season came and went, and by then I knew I liked Jack. Next came the hardest months – trying to decide whether to stay. I couldn’t go and come back, because the borders were closed. The pandemic pushed me into making more serious decisions than I would ordinarily make in a new relationship.
I made my decision to stay based on nothing more than gut instinct. Whenever I thought about going back, I was like, “I think I'm going to regret this.” Over the passage of time, I realised that I could cope with being away from my family. I’m never going to have to wait three years again. If I need to go home now, I can. It’s expensive, but I can go. That makes a difference.
Jack is a farmer from Preston in the north of England. He first came to New Zealand when he was eighteen as part of his college course, was posted out on farms and loved it. After college, he came back and did a bit more farm work. He’d work in the UK, save up all his holidays, then come back over here for six weeks to stay with his New Zealand “family.” Eventually, the boss said, “My manager’s leaving. Do you want a manager’s job?” He’s worked there in Morrinsville ever since – for the last ten years.
I’ve bought into the vet business now, so that’s exciting. Our practice is split between Cambridge and Matamata. As a vet, you learn a lot of “gold standard” things – the way things should be done. It’s interesting to see them in action. When you go out on farm, you see such an amazing range of systems and different ways to achieve the same result. Everyone’s got their own ideas and methods. Everyone’s farming situation and cows are unique. It’s that variety that’s so interesting. The way you run your farms here is quite different to the UK. There are a lot more sheds over there and a lot more cows that calve 365 days. I go out on the farm with Jack to figure out what he’s doing, and why.
Jack has a manager’s house on the farm out of Morrinsville, which we’ve made our home. Jack is super into gardening; he grows everything. He has loads of tomatoes, so I do tomato sauce, chutney and all that jazz. It’s fun to eat seasonally. We also have all the meat from the farm, and Jack’s into fishing. Most nights most of our meal is homegrown.
We’re getting married next year, which is exciting. Raising kids on a farm is definitely part of the dream. I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds, because I could call either country home. I’ve got two homes, which is not a detriment. It’s a bonus.
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