Toby Dixon and Ryan Gut didn’t set out to be farmers, but both gave up jobs to set up a thriving organic market garden in Taranaki.
They've combined local knowledge, new technology and their passion for organic food to create Kaitake Farm at Oakura, near New Plymouth.
From their 2000 square metre property they supply local supermarkets and restaurants and sell to the public using an honesty box app.
Toby, 29, had trained for four years as a surveyor and worked in the profession for another four years, before he started to look for “something else”.
“It was definitely something to do with it being my own, and running it myself.”
He didn’t dislike his job, and wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking for, but after travelling overseas realised he was interested in nutrition and “wanting to see things happen locally a bit more”.
Ryan, 31, trained as a carpenter and worked full time in Hawera, but says it wasn’t his passion.
He returned from his overseas travels keen to buy and eat more organic food and, finding it was too expensive, turned his brother’s back yard into a big garden to grow his own.
“It was all I could think about for half a year,” Ryan says.
“[I] realised that’s what I love to do so I just followed that – and here I am.”
The two met up and after a few months decided to give growing a go.
They started out with just a few garden beds and took produce to the local market to get a feel for demand.
“That gave us the boost to just push and get going and make it happen," Toby says
They worked out by trial and error that the best use of a small plot was to concentrate on quickly-produced crops.
“A lot of our [crops] are baby leaf greens so they’re not in the ground for a long time,” Ryan says.
As demand grew, so did the garden’s size, and they installed wash stations, greenhouses and irrigation systems.
Their garden is on land handed down by Toby’s parents – his mother used to run it as a kiwifruit orchard and both parents enjoy helping out.
“It’s been the break that allowed us to do what we do,” Toby says.
In the United States, he says, farmers are increasingly leasing a couple of acres of land at a peppercorn rent to young people who run them as small market gardens. It’s harder in New Zealand to find those opportunities, and he’d like to see some way of connecting up people who want to do the same thing here.
For retail sales they teamed up with a local dairy farm which already had individual customers coming in to buy milk. They put fridge and a shelf for their produce and people pay by a cash honesty box or the My Honesty Box app.
“We’re of that era …if there’s an app that’ll make it easier we’ll probably download it,” says Toby.
“It works really well – people love what we do and they want to keep it there so they look after it.”
They use accounting software run off their cellphones, but a lot of ordering is still done by text. “It’s a bit clunky but it works.”
As well as salad vegetables, they’re growing carrots, beetroot, silver beet, kale, spinach and turnips. As organic gardeners they use a lot of compost, and control pests organically, often with beneficial insects.
Ryan says they’re looking to maximize the land they have, and become more efficient, rather than expanding.
“I think it’s better having more small scale farms than a few big ones.”