21 November 2023

Finding their Farm
Ilka Seeback

WRITER: as told to Lauren Jackson

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 Ilka’s story, the second in this series.

Ilka, who is German, and her Kiwi partner Callum out on the farm with dogs.

Top image. In the four-wheeler out on Ilka and partner Callum Calder’s farm. “You have your life in your own hands,” Ilka says. “Don’t just sit there and think, ‘I want to do it.’ You can do it. Everybody can do it.” Above. “I love taking photos and documenting the work we’ve done on the farm. It will be cool to look back on when we’re older. I go nowhere without my camera and have a wee website where I sell my prints. I’ve lived here for twelve years now, and I still discover new places I’ve never been to. It’s a never-ending journey,” Ilka says.

I grew up in Hagen, close to Bremen, in Germany. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but it was a rural environment – a great childhood. I did a three-year apprenticeship in logistics. It was an office job, eight to five, Monday to Friday. I hated that job so much. Every day was the same, and I was just like, “Nah, this can’t be it.”

As an apprentice in Germany, you don’t make much money, so I had a second job on a dairy farm milking cows in the evenings and on weekends. I just loved the farm work. I’ve always been an outdoor person, and I love animals. On the day I finished my apprenticeship, I was out of there. I started working on the dairy farm full time. I got my tractor licence and did an artificial insemination licence. It got me where I am now. Things do happen for a reason.

When I decided to go overseas for a year, I rang a farming-exchange agency that told me, “If you want to go dairy farming, definitely New Zealand.” I came to New Zealand in August 2010 and went straight into calving. I worked for John and Alison Gray on a dairy farm near Darfield. They were awesome and really looked after me. After a year, my boss said, “We’d like you to stay.” I was like, “Sure. Why not?” I loved the work, and I stepped up quite fast in my job. I was on a salary, which wasn’t much, but I felt so rich! I made some really good friends from all over the world.

Callum and I met online. Our first date was a hike up Isthmus Peak in September 2019. I was in Wānaka, and he lived in Dipton, Southland, where he’d grown up on a sheep farm. He was leasing land off his parents and had some stock. He did some silage contracting as well. He’s always been really busy. He just can’t sit still. I ended up travelling a lot to see him. He came up every now and then, but with stock you can’t really go far. Then a good opportunity opened up for me in the Mackenzie, and I really couldn’t turn it down. So, for a year I travelled four hours each way to see him and help every weekend.

Callum struggled to find drivers for his silage trucks, so I ended up doing my heavy traffic licence. Honestly, anything he needed – if he was all day away working, I did farmwork for him or jumped in a silage truck myself. Once I got there at 10pm after a 4am start and a full day of work, jumped in the tractor and mowed until midnight while he was still away making silage. I wanted a farmer who didn’t mind getting his hands dirty, and I got my farmer. I’ve just really loved him since the first day I met him. That sounds very crazy, but there was something special about him. We have the same interests, and we both love farming. That’s what brought us together, and we’ve made it work.

Ilka, who is German, and her Kiwi partner Callum with their two dogs sit in front of hay bales on the farm.
“Callum picked me up on our ‘first date’ when we hiked up Isthmus Peak. I had two cans of Speight’s with me and we drank those at the summit. That really blew his mind. He didn’t expect that. And what I really liked about him was when he picked me up at my home and I could hear his voice for the first time – I quite liked the way he rolls the ‘r’ like Southlanders do.”

Immigration has been very complicated and stressful. When I first applied for a partnership residency visa with Callum, it was declined. They just didn’t believe we were doing long distance! I’ve got my residency now. It’s a very big relief. Two years ago, we started looking for a farm – something we could do together. Everything happened so fast, and in 2021 we moved to a 320 hectare sheep and beef farm near Balfour. It’s twenty minutes away from where Callum grew up and honestly, he knows everybody! Callum’s parents are shareholders with Callum, and we run it – just the two of us.

It’s not always easy, working with your partner, but we make a good team and we wouldn’t change it. During spring and summer, Callum still does a lot of contract work with his truck, and I also work as an artificial insemination technician. It gets really busy sometimes, but that’s farming.

Callum had never travelled much overseas. Last year I took him to Germany, Sweden and Norway. He loved it. We watched the maize harvest in Germany, and he loved the German autobahn. We went to the Oktoberfest, and I remember him standing there with the biggest smile on his face. He just loved seeing all these different things. We want to do a bit more travelling and start a family. We’ve got everything now – a good house, a good job, the dogs. The house is amazing – too big for us, but it came with the farm. That’s a really Kiwi thing – you buy a farm; you also buy a house. We’re happy where we are. This is our forever home.

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