Anthropologist turned farmer and master homesteader, Drake Patten, is the paradigm of do-it-yourself entrepreneurial spirit. She strikes an inspiring balance between city life and community stewardship with back-to-roots rural farm life. I started our cool Autumn morning with a tour of her growing Rhode Island farm, led by her expert canine tour guide, Bella; and sat with her at the home base of her community focused shop, Cluck!, a converted 60's gas station with sun-drenched herb beds and a little zen hen house. Read on to hear about the travels that motivated her to start this urban agricultural hub....
Nativen: Where are you from?
Drake: I'm from here now, but I was raised all over the place, outside of the US mostly. I have a Danish mother and an American Father.
Nativen: It sounds like your life was a bit transient when you were younger, do you think that had any effect on your decision to start this business in particular?
Drake: I think that living internationally you see a lot of things and that includes food and farming traditions. I'm an anthropologist by training, and an archaeologist, and I think that training taught me to see things in a particular way, to pay attention to what was happening and why it was happening in a certain way. And while that definitely played a part in what I've done with in life and with my business, I think that the connector for those things has been how much I really like people. I like engaging with things that can make the world better, not in a romantic way, but practically.
Nativen: Was there a kind of “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to pursue farming as a business?
Drake: My “aha” moment came from talking to my dad. I had been in the non-profit world as an executive director for multiple organizations, but after some time, I knew that I was coming to the end of it. My dad said, "I always thought of you as being business.” And I was like, "Dad, I've only every done non-profit. That's crazy!” He wanted me to get a job at IBM, where I could wear nice suits and heels. I went home and I poured myself a glass of wine and thought, "What would business be for me?"
I knew it almost immediately when I asked myself that question; I wasn't traumatized by it, I didn't deliberate. I just knew that I wanted to do something with food and self-reliance and that it would be a friendly place and there would be education. It would be in the community and it would be beautiful.
Nativen: What do you love most about being in Providence?
Drake: I would say it’s the scale of this community. Not just this neighborhood I chose, but the entire city. It’s just the nature of our state, the joke is that everybody knows everybody else, but it's not really a joke, its kind of true! Most of the time, that's an incredibly powerful thing. Connection is really critical for all of us with micro-businesses.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite restaurant in the area?
Drake: Too many! I would say my husband's kitchen to be diplomatic.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?
Drake: Yes! I really love Roger Williams Park. There is also is our city park, it's like our Central Park. It has a botanical center and it's just a beautiful place. I just love that park!
Nativen: Is there a hidden gem in the area?
Drake: My hidden gem for me is my own land. I've just waited a long time for it and I find such beauty there that I don't need another gem anymore. Everyday it changes as the light and the seasons change. I'm a little in love with my own farm right now.
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here?
Drake: My customer base. I listen to what people are looking for, what they are feeling insecure about, what they are feeling confident about. There are so many opportunities for local makers and growers. If you look around the store, there are a lot of Rhode Island and New England people here. They are here because the customer base I have is excited about it.
Nativen: What part of the process of running this business brings you the most joy?
Drake: I would have to say that it’s the people who come back and share a success or even a failure. That’s what I want this business to do in the end. There are people who bring me their harvest to show me, "I grew this." I have people who bring me honey from their beehives. I have people who bring me chickens. Sharing the job is what it’s all about. There are also those people who come in and are like, "This thing totally failed." And we sit down and have a therapy session about it. That's actually my favorite; it’s why I'm here. If that kind of thing didn't happen, the business might be fine doing what it's doing, but it would be a one-way conversation. For me, that conversation is the joy.
Nativen: What part is the biggest struggle for you?
Drake: Financing. People call us a small business but I'm very specific about it; this is a micro-business. I am one person.
Nativen: What is one thing you have always wanted to do, but haven't done yet?
Drake: I want to open a little bar in Venice and live above it. I used to go every year, and I love it there! There is still time, when I'm older.
Nativen: Perfect segue to my next question: do you think traveling somewhere in particular would inspire or alter your work, in any way?
Drake: I want to see the big land of our country. I was fortunate to see a lot of the rest of the world as I was growing up, so I’ve seen very little of this country. I would like to do a big trip with my family across country.
Nativen: Do you have any music or songs that are on heavy rotation at this moment?
Drake: I am listening to Chris Bathgate’s "Salt Year." I find it haunting and lovely. But I live with a man who has 8,000 records, so nothing is really ever on heavy rotation. We listen to them all. But I do have phases. Sometimes I am this weird, serial, listener, but I don't listen to music on the farm because I like the sounds of the animals and the trees. I find that is my music at home. Here, there is opera Sunday, but mostly, Cajun, Zhivago, and Bluegrass.
Nativen: What are three words that sum up your work?
Drake: Fun first and foremost. Second, I’d say hopeful—I’m very hopeful about what we can do with our food future. And third: gentle.
Nativen: Is there anything you do with your work to specifically connect with your community apart from having your store?
Drake: Education. We do classes, workshops and author events. Now I’m trying to do film events, community screenings.
Nativen: What is the most helpful advice that you have received?
Drake: One person I really admire said, "You need to take more time away from your business." His point for that was that, if you step away, you can be more analytical and look critically at what you are doing. Even though I haven't been able to take advantage of that advice yet, I really heard it.
Nativen: What are three things that you can't live without?
Drake: My dog. I have this ring that I bought from a contemporary German jeweler that is a signet ring with a fingerprint on it. The fingerprint is mine, and it’s symbolic of a number of things in my life before I got to this place in my life. And, honestly, these days I really need my shepherd’s crook.
Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler
Edited by: Kristin Knox (This interview has been condensed & edited)
all images copyright of Nativen