Bouncing down the rutted dirt road to Seeley Farm, it’s hard to remember downtown Ann Arbor is less than five miles away. Large trees block the big field and hoop house from view, and only a small sign on the mailbox announces the farm’s presence. Alex Cacciari and her husband, Mark Nowak, rented the 30-acre farmstead in 2012, and bought it the following year. Quickly, they knew it was home. That might have come as a shock to the couple during their “previous lives” in New York City where they pursued art and held a variety of other jobs, from journalism to dog-walking to printmaking. But after three years in the Big City, they felt the call of the wild.
Journey into farming
Their first stop was a sheep farm in the Hudson Valley belonging to an eccentric wealthy couple that sold art in the city. That farm is located on a pretty country lane, named Seeley Road, which they have named their own farm after. Alex and Mark lived in the caretaker’s cottage and tended the sheep and the couple’s extensive kitchen garden. The owners were rarely present, and the beautiful 120-acre farm felt like their own. Then Mark and Alex traveled the world. Alex flirted with a career in journalism, but it was her experience working on farms that stuck with her. “Mark and I grew up in suburbia. It’s hard to tell your parents that you want to be a farmer,” she recalls. But shortly after she and Mark moved to his native Michigan, they decided to take the plunge.
Seeley Farm began at the Tilian Farm Development Center in 2011, a farm incubator on Pontiac Trail in Ann Arbor where the couple tested their model for two years before moving to their current Warren Road location. Seeley Farm, certified Organic since 2013, lends a core business of salad greens. Over the years, they’ve expanded to include dozens of other vegetables to sell at farmers markets, grocery stores, restaurants, and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a farm subscription service where members buy vegetables in advance, giving farmers the money they need to fund the season. Flowers are a small but growing part of Seeley Farm’s business, overseen by Alex, who enjoys the artistic outlet. In 2016, she co-founded the Michigan Flower Growers’ Cooperative, a wholesale cut-flower market at YpsiPlanti, Growing Hope’s farmers market space in Ypsilanti.
Planning for the future
Work-life balance is a moving target for the couple. “You want to come home to your partner and talk about what happened at work. But in our case, we already know!” says Alex. “And it’s hard not to slip into business conversations in the evening, when we just need to relax.” Two children are now part of the family: Henry, five, and Nina, not yet two. This summer the kids will be with a nanny, instead of attending camp and daycare, so they’ll be on the farm. “We didn’t choose farming for the money, we chose it for the lifestyle,” Alex says. “We want our kids to feel connected and curious about the farm and what we do here.” She acknowledges that while there is no guarantee their kids will want to take over the farm one day, the more quality time they spend there, the better the chances. And since their land was recently approved for a conservation easement, it will be safe from development for future generations.