Oh my word, I have serious life envy. There is someone out there who is living my dream and doing if far better than I ever could. That someone is Helene Henderson (wife of actor/director John Stockwell and Florence Welch’s aunt!) who runs the utterly magical Malibu Farm. Producing and serving organic food, and hosting cooking classes just a stone’s throw from the stunning California coastline, Helene explains her enterprise with the following equation: 1 Swedish chef + 2 spoiled goats + 1 fat pig + 23 fancy footed chickens + 2 rescue dogs + small vineyard + 300 raspberry bushes + 36 fruit trees + vegetable gardens + 28 loud peacocks + the most beautiful beach= Malibu Farm.
Here, she talks to us about how it all began…
Have you always lived in Malibu? No, I actually grew up in the far north of Sweden. I have one published cookbook, which is a little love letter to Sweden, it’s called The Swedish Table. I came to America right after graduating from high school and moved to Malibu in 2008.
Where did the idea for the farm come from? My husband loves surfing and he has always wanted to live in Malibu. I love land… more than sand… but when we found an affordable plot just one block from the beach we decided to make the move.
What did you do first? It all started with the weeds, which there were lots of! I’m talking 1.5 acres of weeds. And there was an empty barn, and a corral. After getting a few outrageous estimates for weed removal, I considered the weeds and the barn and the empty corral and decided that goats were the solution.
What happened then? I found a pair of goats on Craiglist for $40 and decided this was the answer. However, the goats looked at the weeds and said, ‘Please feed us alfalfa’. And then they rested in the sun and watched the workers clear the weeds. And then, of course, we needed chickens, and the kids wanted a pig – the whole thing just grew from there.
What’s the concept in a nutshell? One day, two friends asked if I would teach a cooking class, and so I did. Then someone suggested I post the class recipes on a blog. A few months later, I threw a dinner for the cooking class participants and I cooked mostly with the vegetables we were growing, and used local ingredients from Malibu vendors and suddenly we were getting press and blog mentions. I never set out to start a Malibu Farm business, it all just happened…. organically.
What are your rules for eating well? If you know how it is made, if you know how to make it, if you know how it grows, or if you grow it, then you can eat it. If you do not have a basic clue of how it grows or how it is made, than you should not eat it.
What do you think constitutes a healthy lifestyle? Simplify everything; all you really need are great ingredients, and the confidence to do as little as possible to them. Good olive oil, salt, garlic and a splash of lemon is really all you need to make a great meal. Run, walk, hike, yoga – whatever you enjoy – just get out there as often as you can. That, and love yourself, just the way you are, because most of it is genetics.
What does your average day involve? It’s always animals first here, so breakfast for everyone…. the pig, then the goats, chickens, cat, dogs and kids last. Once everyone has been fed, I make a black kale berry smoothie for myself, and then I usually go for a run to clear my mind. I walk the yard to see what is ready to be harvested, weeded, planted or watered. By 10 am it is time to tackle the day’s cooking task, which may be a cooking class, (all my class recipes are on my website), a catering job, or a special event here at our place.Then the day ends as it started, by feeding all the animals first.
How do you relax at the end of it? I stand and walk a lot, and I am always either cooking or gardening so my feet and my hands get a pretty bad beating on a daily basis. I love to treat myself to an occasional manicure and pedicure – very relaxing. Of course I do buff only, polish would last about a day so it’s just not worth it!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Kids don’t do as you say, they do what you do, which also extends to food. Kids want your iPhone, your iPad, your computer, your favorite handbag and your designer shoes, and they will also crave and desire the food you eat. If they see you eat healthily, so will they… One day.
What’s your most treasured possession? My most treasured possession is TIME and being blessed with the opportunity to watch my children, my animals, and the land all around us grow.
What are you coveting right now? I am mostly coveting the ability to swim, a cure for galeophobia (fear of sharks), and a good sense of balance… then I would hit the waves and really take advantage of what Malibu has to offer. Until then I will just have to watch from the sand.
Many thanks to Swedish photographer Martin Lof for allowing me to use his beautiful images for this post. Watch this space for a Q&A with Martin himself! See more of his work at martinlof.com