While market gardening isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ for farmers looking to diversify their business, it represents an opportunity to foster food resilience, educate and regain social license while eventually being cash positive – if you can afford the risk.
That’s the message from Mangaroa Farms’ Jules Matthews, part of a team who exhibited the sheep & beef farm’s recently-opened market garden at Open Farms 2023 last month to 400+ visitors.
“We’ve got two generations of Kiwis now with no connection to agriculture, and they’re getting very interested in where their food comes from and how it’s grown,” Jules says.
While things are looking up for this venture, she knows how hard it can be to make diversification work in the long run without help.
“Mangaroa Farms was established and funded in part by foreign investors to be a resilient food hub, an educational tool and a regenerative-focused farming business. We’re lucky to have the coincidence of skills and investment needed to venture into this space.
“I knew of one farmer doing an amazing market garden solo. Eventually he had to stop to save his marriage because he was working seven days a week.
“Even with this investment money we’ve had to be fiscally responsible – and it’s only now things are nearing a breakeven point.”
From a quick tour around the gardens it’s clear this approach is evident. Everything from greenhouses, crop selection, and cover crop/soil management has been designed to maximise yield while avoiding reliance on sophisticated technology and nitrogen fertiliser.
Take Jules’ 18v drill-powered rototiller as a shining example: a beautifully simple integration of a common power tool into some fabricated metalworking allowing one person to hand-till large areas quickly prior to sowing (also done using a similar contraption).
Stepping into Mangaroa Farms’ greenhouses we see grow lines suspended from sliding hooks allowing tomatoes, cucumbers and chili peppers to grow not only up but sideways as well by letting out slack in the line. Again, the approach of maximising yield in a small area while avoiding high-tech inputs.
They’ve also managed to extend this philosophy into a level of quality control to rival any commercial operation. Step into the packing house and you’re met with more no.8 wire engineering: a spa pool motor fitted to a PVC pipe drilled full of holes lies at the bottom of a long water trough. At the flick of a switch, the pipe shoots jets of bubbles to the surface, cleaning the picked crops of contaminants before they are dried in a washing machine set to spin cycle. Following this, crops are dried beneath household fans before finally being placed into a chiller ready for shipping.
Jules’ advice to farmers interested in learning more about how to make market gardening pay is to book a visit to Roebuck Farms in Taranaki.
“Jodi Roebuck has experience in making it work in the long run. His workshops cover the practical stuff and the balance sheet side of things too”.
Jules is a member of Federated Farmers.