SCENTS & SEN­SI­BIL­ITY

TWO BROTH­ERS HAVE TURNED A PATCH OF WANAKA PAD­DOCK INTO A LAVEN­DER BUSI­NESS IN FULL BLOOM

NZ Life & Leisure - - Contents - WORDS CHEREE MOR­RI­SON PHO­TO­GRAPHS RACHAEL HALE MCKENNA

Take two young men and a bunch of pretty plants and what do you get? A flour­ish­ing busi­ness

APART FROM A FEW ro­tund bovines, the land was bare when the two young men ar­rived. Twelve hectares of smooth-ish pad­dock, a blank can­vas big enough for the most in­spired of artists. They wan­dered around for a while, draw­ing plans with sweep­ing hands, ges­tur­ing and de­bat­ing, be­fore get­ting back into their car and driv­ing away.

The men soon re­turned. The sold sign was knocked to the ground and once again they paced – but this time with pur­pose. The cows qui­etly plod­ded off to greener pas­tures and as the im­prints of their hooves faded, the land trans­formed. Fences ap­peared, the rough ter­rain was marked out and tended, and tiny plants sprouted from the soil. The two men seemed never to leave, al­ways there, al­ways busy. As their hands blis­tered and their backs set­tled into per­ma­nent aches, the land be­came a gar­den and then in spring, the gar­den be­came a busi­ness.

Five years on, the Wanaka Laven­der Farm is un­rec­og­niz­able from those early days. A patch­work quilt of laven­der cov­ers the grounds, veg­etable gar­dens are full of healthy pro­duce and in a stone build­ing de­signed from plans once traced in the dirt, home­made laven­der prod­ucts are dis­played on any and ev­ery avail­able sur­face. As for the two men? They could be any­where. Per­haps be­hind the counter, scoop­ing laven­der ice cream for a guest’s break­fast (yes, for hol­i­day­mak­ers, ice cream is a per­fectly ac­cept­able break­fast food). They might be found ty­ing rib­bons onto fra­grant prod­ucts or sickle har­vest­ing bunches of laven­der from some­where among the 7000 plants. For broth­ers and own­ers Tim and Stef Zeestraten, no job is too big or too small.

A post­card-per­fect laven­der farm is per­haps not the first place one would ex­pect to find one of New Zealand’s top snow­board­ers and his en­gi­neer-cum-he­li­copter pi­lot older brother. They quite like the look of con­fu­sion that crosses peo­ple’s faces when they shake their hands and ask, so what do you do? A laven­der farm you say? How in­ter­est­ing. In­ter­est­ing, yes, but not that sur­pris­ing. Stef (31) and Tim (33) have pur­ple hearts and green thumbs. It’s in the genes. Fa­ther Jan is a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion com­mer­cial gar­dener and mother Corry was (and still is) mad on herbs.

Corry and Jan em­i­grated from Hol­land in 1994 when their three chil­dren (sis­ter Jet­tie now lives in Nel­son) were eight, 10 and 12. Jan and Corry were tired of life grow­ing green­house toma­toes, so “for fun” de­cided to move to New Zealand where Corry had hitched­hiked years ear­lier. Some 14 years grow­ing com­mer­cial pro­duce in Lin­coln, near Christchurch, fol­lowed, be­fore a year-long stint in Ox­ford was cut short by an un­ex­pected email from Stef. In Amer­ica for a snow­board­ing trip, he’d spot­ted a Kaik­oura laven­der farm on TradeMe and sent the ad to his mum for a laugh. Jan and Corry moved to the Kaik­oura laven­der farm a few months later.

Af­ter 26 win­ters and one long work­ing hol­i­day snow­board­ing over­seas, Stef was ready to “get a real job”. He turned to older brother Tim and the pair looked back to the green gar­dens of their youth for ca­reer in­spi­ra­tion. “Stef and I had been talk­ing about what to do and where to go, jok­ing about just repli­cat­ing mum and dad’s farm in Kaik­oura; we felt like they had nailed it.” De­spite Jan and Corry’s sug­ges­tion that the boys take over the Kaik­oura prop­erty, the broth­ers had been de­ter­mined to start a laven­der farm from scratch. Af­ter find­ing the Wanaka farm, Tim broke the news to girl­friend of a few months Jessica (now his wife and mum to oneyear-old Maple) that her en­gi­neer part­ner was off to grow laven­der, and they moved in 2010.

“Tak­ing over from our par­ents wouldn’t have given us the op­por­tu­nity to add any­thing to the busi­ness,” says Stef. “Here we have some­thing to be proud of. To­gether we de­signed and built this busi­ness from the ground up. Tim and I dug the trenches for the plumb­ing; now when the wa­ter comes out of the tap, we know ex­actly how it got there. We know where the bore is and which pipe it’s com­ing from.”

Tim agrees. “We wanted to do this prop­erly, have a last­ing, qual­ity prop­erty. We put as many hours into cre­at­ing it as the builders did – all to stick within bud­get. We knew we could cre­ate some­thing nice; the hard part was not know­ing if peo­ple would come.”

They needn’t have wor­ried. At first, vis­i­tors ar­rived by the car­load and now by bus. Dur­ing the sum­mer months, the drive­way crack­les with tyres from 9am to 5pm, and of­ten be­yond. “It’s never end­ing. If they keep com­ing past clos­ing, we keep the doors open – af­ter all, we have a busi­ness to pay off. It’s been three years of work with no in­come, and even now we pay the bills then ev­ery­thing goes back in the busi­ness.”

With only a $2 en­try fee to the sprawl­ing laven­der gar­dens, the big­ger op­por­tu­nity lies within the stone walls of the shop and tea­room. Any­thing and ev­ery­thing laven­der re­lated is in­side, and al­most all is hand­made by Corry and the Zeestraten fam­ily. Soaps, balms, wheat bags, muffins, cakes – “any­thing made with laven­der, we will do it or at least give it a try”, says Corry.

The farm pro­duces about 50 litres of oil from the har­vested flow­ers, dis­tilled in Clyde and then crafted into the Wanaka Laven­der Farm prod­ucts. While the boys are work­ing on per­fect­ing their sales abil­i­ties, the prod­ucts sell them­selves. Over­seas vis­i­tors of­ten ar­rive, bun­dle prod­ucts into their bas­kets and de­part quickly, suit­cases laden and scented with gifts for friends and fam­ily back home. They are gifts for fam­ily made by a gifted fam­ily.

Re­tire­ment didn’t come nat­u­rally to Corry and Jan; while they were happy to give up the pa­per­work they loathed, they are no good with idle hands. Per­haps that’s why, af­ter sell­ing the Kaik­oura farm, in 2012 they fol­lowed the boys to Wanaka. In true Zeestraten style, they shied away from Wanaka’s new sub­urbs and moved into a rammed earth home right next door to the laven­der farm, de­signed by Stef and built in part by Tim. Cool in sum­mer and warm in win­ter, the home was crafted to suit the fam­ily. “My great­est skill is know­ing how to learn,” says Stef. “De­sign­ing a home was like fac­ing a gi­ant puz­zle, the fun was work­ing out how to solve it. Even bet­ter is be­ing able to show up for Sun­day roasts to en­joy it.”

Tim’s me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing ca­reer may have equipped him for many things and build­ing his par­ents’ house was an un­ex­pected op­por­tu­nity. “There was noth­ing to dis­like about my pre­vi­ous job but I felt I needed more of a chal­lenge, rather than hav­ing my path mapped out. I’ve no re­grets as it taught me so many hands-on and trans­fer­able skills.”

Sit­ting down for Sun­day din­ner is a lux­ury for Tim and Stef – be­ing open seven days means 75-hour plus work­ing weeks and few mo­ments to step back and view the farm through fresh eyes. When they do, they see things be­yond the till and lawn­mower. Cou­ples pose for pho­tos in the fields of laven­der, chil­dren pet the al­pacas and baa at sheep and fam­i­lies en­joy pic­nics and com­pete at pé­tanque. All this takes place to the sound­track of the flight of the bum­ble­bee – not the iconic mu­sic of Rim­sky-Kor­sakov but thou­sands of bees (both honey and bum­ble) waltz­ing along the laven­der lanes. “First thing in the morn­ing is the best time to be here, when the wind dies down, the gates are shut and all is quiet. That’s when we pause and see it for some­thing other than putting bread on the ta­ble.”

TH­ESE PAGES: Lovers of hand­made, lo­cally sourced prod­ucts re­joice – Corry keeps the store well stocked. “There are about 30 to 40 things that we make on site; the soap dis­ap­pears out the door al­most as fast as we can make it. It’s been fun to learn how...

TH­ESE PAGES: The out­door fur­ni­ture was crafted by Tim, who tracked down old scaf­fold­ing planks and “whipped it up”. “We love re­cy­cling. And giv­ing new life to qual­ity, preloved things like an old gate ( left) adds her­itage and sto­ries to the farm....

THIS PAGE: Mt Barker keeps watch over the schist store and gen­tly sculpted grounds. The 40 tonnes of Lindis schist used in the build was sourced lo­cally. OP­PO­SITE: The ex­tended Zeestraten fam­ily (from left) Stef, part­ner Rochelle Richard­son, Paul and...

VIDEO: Wan­der through th­ese lanes of laven­der by watch­ing our ex­clu­sive on­line video. See thisnzlife. co. nz The Zeestratens of­ten fi nd im­promptu photo shoots tak­ing place in their gar­den; tourists, lo­cals, and even bri­dal par­ties pose in the...

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