Nadia Lim isn’t one to half-commit to a project. In fact, when we catch up with her at home – the expansive Royalburn Station near Arrowtown – you get the impression that the word ‘no’ is not something she uses very often.
Sign up to compete on MasterChef NZ? Yes. Launch a multi-million-dollar meal-kit subscription service? Let’s do it. Buy a station in the South Island and become a leader in regenerative and ethical farming? Definitely. It’s this inspirational go-getter attitude that has no doubt been integral to her success and captured the hearts of Kiwis.
Equally as energetic is her husband Carlos Bagrie, a fifth-generation Southern farmer. It was Carlos’ idea to pack up their Auckland home and buy the 485-hectare Royalburn Station – one of the oldest farms in the country – in 2019.
Since then, the couple have significantly transformed the property into a diverse large-scale commercial operation, producing everything from premium lamb and black Angus beef to pasture-raised eggs, honey, sunflower oil and decadent wool blankets.
It’s clear the couple are fully entrenched in farm life in one of the most beautiful locations in the world. Yes, Royalburn is idyllic, but it’s also never-ending work. However, Nadia and Carlos’ natural inclination to challenge the status quo – and say ‘yes’ – has led them to develop innovative, world-leading methods in regenerative and ethical farming on this incredible property.
Royalburn Station – an alpine farm on the Crown Range Road between Wānaka and Arrowtown.
My husband Carlos and our three boys; Bodhi (seven), River (five) and Arlo (seven months), plus Winston the black labrador, Arthur and Milly the goats, 6000 sheep and 4500 free-range chickens.
Yes, it was always the plan to end up here. In fact, it was on our second or third date back in 2005 that we started talking about it, soon after meeting during O-week in Dunedin. Carlos said that he’d always wanted to return back to his Southern roots and go farming one day – he’s a fifth-generation farmer so it’s in the blood. I’ve always had a strong interest in food that extended to primary production and farming, so we make a really good team.
Carlos had been keeping an eye on farms in Central Otago and when the opportunity came about for us to buy Royalburn, we knew it was time.
Well, it’s not a hobby farm, that’s for sure! We produce enough food here to feed about 20,000 people and we have an awesome team who manage different facets of the farm. There’s a team dedicated to looking after the chickens, the livestock, market garden, and we have five people working in the butchery. We also have a sales and distribution team, and the Royalburn Farm Shop staff. It started out very small with just Carlos and I, plus our manager Michelle and one farm worker, and now we have 32 people working in the business.
It doesn’t matter where we are standing on the farm, the landscape is amazing. We feel so lucky to live here in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. I love the history of this place – the original homestead was built in the 1880s. We renovated when we moved in but have kept much of it as traditional as possible.
The picnic table out the front of our house is a favourite feature. It’s where we have family meals all year round and the tree above speaks of the seasons; the leaves change to a beautiful red in autumn, it’s naked in winter, the buds appear in spring and then it’s full and green in summer.
I’m not a person that needs much stuff and I don’t really collect things, but my owl salt and pepper shakers Oscar and Wilbur are quite sentimental as they were my Nan’s. They’d be about 70-80 years old now and feature in my cookbooks and on the TV series Nadia’s Farm. The landscape painting in our living area is also special – it’s by the artist Douglas Badcock.
I gravitate towards things that have been repurposed and have a bit of a story behind them. When Carlos and I renovated the homestead we did a big collection around the farm, gathering scrap metal, timber posts …. basically junk, but not junk in our eyes. We created the chandelier in the living room from deer antlers and chains from the farm and we took the corrugated iron roof off the homestead, flattened it, and reused it as the interior walls of the Royalburn Farm Shop in Arrowtown.
Definitely old, vintage treasures. I try to avoid buying new pieces if I can. They just don’t make things like they did back in the day!
The kitchen and dining room – this is usually where we all hang out together and cook and eat good food. I also love the Prohibition House. This is the old shearer’s quarters where, in around 1918, the workers would sneak in their moonshine. We recently finished renovating it and have just opened it up so people can hire it for special events and photo shoots.
The boys are usually up by 6.30am, so it would be great to have a sleep in! But once they’re up we like to head down to the bike park to burn off some energy. The two older boys love the pump tracks at Lake Hayes Estate and Hanley’s Farm.
Then we would head home and collect food from around the farm – we need to be onto it with harvesting and making use of what we have growing each season. The kids might help pick berries or apples and vegies, and then we’ll make something delicious together.
Our 1.6-hectare market garden has always been a passion project, as well as the chickens. The happy chooks here produce hands down the best eggs ever.
We have a brilliant team and I still really like to get stuck in whenever I can. We’ve also just started Royalburn Weddings and Events, so people can hire out part of the station and Prohibition House for special occasions and corporate events. It’s an incredible spot with amazing views of The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.
Our focus is producing quality food on a large scale that’s both ethical and sympathetic to the environment. It’s also about connecting people to their food, where it comes from and how it’s produced. We have an awesome opportunity to try and bridge that gap and help create a more resilient food system for future generations.
We also hope to complete our journey to becoming a carbon-zero business – although this is not straightforward in farming, it’s an important goal of ours as custodians of the land.
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