Duncan Maas and his wife Bianca sell organic vegetables at the Grey Lynn Farmers Market on Sunday mornings.
Did you grow up on a farm?
No, but Bianca did. Her parents sub-divided their Waihi farm thirteen years ago so that we could farm next door to them. We started rearing calves and four seasons before we made the switch to horticulture and then growing vegetables.
Farming is under-pressure to be kinder to the environment, how does that affect you?
Sustainability is very important to us too. We have fenced off our waterways to keep water quality up, and planted lots of natives. We are trying to get rid of introduced species and pest plants. There are lots of trees on our farm and we have noticed a big increase in native birds now that stock levels have dropped.
What made you switch?
Bianca’s dad was our inspiration - he switched first. I went with him to the Hamilton markets and loved meeting customers. He went organic and became a real advocate for organic vegetable growing. In the end he talked us into it.
Had you grown vegetables before?
No – it’s a steep learning curve. Obviously, Bianca’s dad has been a huge help and we are grateful to all the other farmers who have shared their knowledge with us. Of course, there’s also a lot of information online and some great social media groups where we can get answers and ideas.
You also made the switch to being certified organic
Yes – we’ve been fully certified by Organic Farm NZ (OFNZ) for two years and it took us three years to go through the process. The Waihi OFNZ pod has five farms, including us and Bianca’s dad. We love the support that the pod provides.
Why sell at a market rather than selling to a supermarket chain?
We want to try to make organics affordable to a wider range of people - as long as we can pay our bills and get a holiday occasionally. I love being the face of our farm and being able to talk directly to customers. People want to know where the produce comes from and how it is grown. I love to hear from them about what produce they want me to grow. We like to grow quirky varieties that people might not have seen before.
What products are the most popular?
Our purple cauliflower, and small red cabbages. People seem to like it being easier to use the whole cabbage. We grow 6-8 varieties of tomatoes - “Artisan Blush” tomatoes are very popular so keep an eye out for these around Christmas. And in mid-summer spaghetti squash is popular alternative to pasta – you just bake it and scrape out the stringy centre.
What have you had to sacrifice to start farming?
I used to do triathlons and have done the Ironman and quite a few ultramarathons. I grew up doing endurance running in South Africa and I love mountain biking. I have more bikes than the average person – I’ve got five bikes that are working. But there’s not much time for all that training now that we are farming.
So, are your holidays spent on a bike?
Often. The rail-trail through the Karangahake gorge is beautiful and local for us. There are some great mountain bikes around Cambridge. But the highlight was our trip to Europe in 2016. We did a bit of cycling in Italy around Lake Garda. That was mind-blowing amazing. We were taken up a mountain in a van then cycled down 60-70 km. The views were like we were suspended in the sky.
As published in Ponsonby News : October 2019