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Nadia Lim and Carlos Bagrie at Royalburn. (Photo: Holly Wallace)
Nadia Lim and Carlos Bagrie at Royalburn. (Photo: Holly Wallace)

Pop CultureApril 4, 2024

‘We’d never move back’: Nadia Lim and Carlos Bagrie on swapping the hustle for the harvest

Nadia Lim and Carlos Bagrie at Royalburn. (Photo: Holly Wallace)
Nadia Lim and Carlos Bagrie at Royalburn. (Photo: Holly Wallace)

Alex Casey chats to Nadia Lim and Carlos Bagrie about the challenges of life on a 1,200-acre farm in Central Otago, and why they continue to share it with the nation in Nadia’s Farm. 

In the middle of a sun-soaked wheat field in Central Otago, two enormous deadlines are looming. A heavily-pregnant Nadia Lim crushes a fistful of wheat and examines the kernels with her husband Carlos Bagrie – it is not quite dry enough yet to be harvested. “How much longer do you think there’s got to go?” she asks. “… When’s baby due?” he replies. Nadia guesses about 10 days, and Carlos laughs and nods his head nervously. 

“About the same time then? How convenient.” 

It’s the kind of moment of poetry and jeopardy that reality TV producers can only dream of: a high stakes harvest competing with the pending arrival of a brand new human. Not to mention the obvious symbolism of growth and birth, nature and abundance, all wrapped up with gorgeous Terrence Malick-style close-ups of golden quivering wheat. But this is no orchestrated cinematic sequence or award-winning movie: it’s just another day on Nadia’s Farm. 

“No, that was definitely not planned,” laughs Lim over Zoom, as Bagrie sagely nods next to her. “If you could have chosen the time of year to have a baby, it wouldn’t have been then.” As someone who made her name on Masterchef, and later appeared in the likes of Dancing With the Stars, she says that Nadia’s Farm is about as stripped-back as a reality show gets. “There’s no script, no plan, nothing. It’s so natural and organic and there’s no big ‘team’ at all.” 

Nadia Lim and Carlos Bagrie (Photo: Holly Wallace)

Lim explains that the bulk of Nadia’s Farm is captured by one camera person, Scotty (“who’s so loose”), and one director, television’s own Matt Chisholm (“also very loose”), who will periodically stop by, have a coffee around the dining table for an update on what’s happening on their 1,200-acre Royalburn farm, then head out and shoot it. “We can’t plan anything, because it’s our actual business,” she says. “Whatever the camera happens to capture is what you get.” 

“It’s actually a real credit to the edit suite,” adds Bagrie. “We’ve been filming almost 18 months, so there’s complete story arcs that we’ve entirely forgotten about.” 

It’s been five years since the couple moved from Auckland to the Central Otago farm with their young family, but the plan had been on the cards since they first started dating as students in the mid-2000s. “I grew up on the outskirts of Invercargill, so I always wanted to eventually move back to a farm,” says Bagrie. On their second date, he pitched the idea to Lim. “I gave him the impression that I would be open to it, and I think that was a big tick for me,” she laughs. 

Of course, a couple of things got in the way of these pastoral plans. Namely a little show called Masterchef, and then a little company called My Food Bag. When they sold a large portion of the meal kit company, Lim says the goal started to look more possible. “Carlos had given up a lot of his life to follow my dream with Masterchef and everything, so it was time to return the favour I guess – if this is what you really want to do, then of course I’ll jump on board with you.”

Carlos and Nadia under the (garlic) mistletoe (Photo: Holly Wallace)

As Bagrie diplomatically puts it, there was a “healthy amount of cynicism” around town when they first arrived. “There were a lot of rumours flying around,” says Lim. “‘Ugh, here’s these Aucklanders, moving onto a big farm who don’t know what they’re doing’.” Although Bagrie had grown up on a farm, he had spent his professional life in the marketing world in Auckland, and says returning to run a farm was like “learning another language.” 

“Like any industry, farming moves on, so all the techniques and the knowledge that I’d grown up with had been surpassed,” he says. “But once we started changing up their cropping regime, things visibly started changing on the farm and people started to take notice.” For example, their enormous organic sunflower paddock became a dazzling set piece, right by the main highway. “Everyone said they wouldn’t grow,” Bagrie beams. “But they just grew perfectly.” 

Sunflowers are just one of the many, many things abundant at Royalburn, alongside the likes of wheat and chicory, beans and peas, dozens of varieties of tomato and thousands of pasture-raised eggs. But as anyone who has seen Nadia’s Farm will know, it hasn’t been without its challenges. The couch grass, for one, haunted the farm in season one, so much so that some locals watching got in touch and offered on-camera advice in season two. 

“We still get people emailing us saying, ‘I can help you with your couch problems, here’s what you should do’,” she laughs. “It’s so lovely that people want to help and that there’s still that knowledge out there that people are happy to share.” Compared to the fiercely competitive and guarded world of marketing, Bagrie says he initially found it “peculiar” how generous local farmers were with their knowledge. “It’s just so cooperative – it’s really quite wonderful.” 

Nadia Lim in her greenhouse (Photo: Holly Wallace)

It’s that learning that Lim says has been her favourite part of the process. “The biggest thing I’ve come to appreciate with farming is that, even if you’re growing things on a small scale, you just can’t be a control freak. You can’t control anything and you’ll never be able to, and you really just have to go with the flow of nature and be cool with that.” So has she allowed herself to let go of the hundreds of kilos of subpar garlic from season one? “Yep,” she laughs. ‘It’s gone.”

While they are happy to show their own struggles on Nadia’s Farm, there’s a deeper purpose for the pair in returning for a second season. “The main reason we decided to come back was because the rural community told us how much they liked us showcasing the trials and tribulations that farmers are facing,” says Bagrie. “And because we’ve also lived in Auckland, we’ve had our feet in both camps of the country and can hopefully bridge that gap.” 

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” adds Lim, “There’s a widening gap in knowledge between rural and urban audiences around how food actually gets to your plate.” Showing the full growing process, as well as how this produce can then be used in cooking, is her main drive for making Nadia’s Farm. “If we can do anything to shed more light on food production and how things actually work in New Zealand to the average consumer, then that’s great.”   

While there will be much more education to come in Nadia’s Farm (I already learned that my garlic crop isn’t getting enough seaweed), there remain plenty of high country hurdles. But the couple wouldn’t change anything about their life at Royalburn. “We’d never move back to the city now,” says Lim. “We say to our kids every dinner time ‘you boys have no idea how lucky you are that we have all our own food here’, and they just go ‘yeah yeah whatever mum’.” 

Gone are the days of bad garlic (Photo: Holly Wallace)

The locals – many who feature in Nadia’s Farm, like Bernie the blowtorch fiend and the Arrowtown compost guy – have also made them feel at home. “You can just walk down the street and have a yarn with everyone, you don’t have to dress up for anyone,” says Lim. “I pick the boys up from school in my gumboots, no worries.” She thinks back to life in Auckland, visiting cafes with the pram and having leisurely brunches, and admits there’s “none of the that” anymore. 

“It’s not a life for the faint-hearted, because it really is so much work,” she says. And the part of Nadia’s Farm requiring the most work this season? “The chickens”, they both immediately say in unison, referring to their ambitious and ongoing effort to produce pasture-fed, free range eggs on a scale never before seen in Aotearoa. “Everything that can go wrong, goes wrong, all the way through,” laughs Bagrie. “At our expense, for the viewers benefit,” adds Lim. 

“At least it makes good TV.” 

Watch Nadia’s Farm Wednesdays at 7.00pm on Three, or here on ThreeNow.

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