Farm­ing in another world

Less than 100km from Auck­land is an is­land where you’ll find some of the most self-suf­fi­cient peo­ple in New Zealand.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words & photos Lind­say Wright

The work­force in Gerald and Caity Endts’ gar­den start right from scratch. There’s about 75 hens chortling their way con­tent­edly as they fos­sick through the un­der­growth in an over­grown area be­tween tow­er­ing bam­boo wind breaks.

“This pad­dock was cov­ered in wan­der­ing jew un­til we put the chooks in a few weeks ago - they’ve cleaned it right out,” Gerald says. “We get them from bat­tery farms as pul­lets so we have to teach them how to roost, and they’re not street wise at all so we keep them close by to pre­vent pre­da­tion by hawks or rats.”

But the pam­pered poul­try are only one as­pect of this di­verse block at the north­east end of the is­land.

“We’ve been go­ing for seven and a half years, grow­ing a di­verse range of fruit and veges, run­ning a busy nurs­ery with or­ganic herb, vege and flower seedlings, and teach­ing or­ganic gar­den­ing work­shops to en­cour­age peo­ple to grow as much as pos­si­ble in har­mony with na­ture,” says Caity.

Gerald spent most of his sum­mers with his aunt and un­cle, He­len and Mur­ray Mabey, at nearby Whangapoua and cul­ti­vated a deep love for the area, the out­door life, and the hunt­ing and fish­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties it pro­vided.

His fa­ther, hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Dick Endt, was look­ing for land to cul­ti­vate some of the plants he’d brought back from a trip to South Amer­ica so he went into part­ner­ship with the Mabeys in the

1980s and es­tab­lished the Okiwi Babaco Com­pany. Bam­boo shel­ter belts were planted and an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem in­stalled but the New Zealand palate just wasn’t ready for the sweet, suc­cu­lent trop­i­cal fruit and, af­ter a few years, the part­ner­ship was dis­solved.

Mean­while Gerald had been study­ing hor­ti­cul­tural man­age­ment at Lin­coln Univer­sity and then over­seas. He met Caity, who also has a back­ground in hor­ti­cul­ture, and im­bued her with his love for the Bar­rier.

“So, we even­tu­ally ar­rived on the barge from Auck­land with our truck laden to the hilt, ready to get stuck in on our dream gar­den,” she re­calls.

Like most Great Bar­rier Is­lan­ders, the cou­ple had to di­ver­sify to earn a liv­ing;

in har­mony with na­ture... noth­ing to do with pas­sion­fruit.

ship to or­ganic out­lets in Auck­land… but freight is a killer, a draw­back of liv­ing on a re­mote is­land,” says Caity. “Then a grower friend in­tro­duced us to Out Of Our Own Back­yards (Ooooby), a na­tion­wide or­ganic pro­duce out­let. These guys are awe­some to deal with: loyal, com­mu­nica­tive, a plea­sure to work with a great ethic.”

These days Okiwi Pas­sion’s pro­duce is flown to Auck­land, picked up and taken to the Ooooby ware­house for pack­ag­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion around the city.

“I was at a coun­cil meet­ing the other day and in­tro­duced my­self to another woman there,” says Caity. “She said ‘ahh, Okiwi Pas­sion, I ate one of your aubergines this week, thanks – it was great.’ I was buzzing by the time I got home to tell Gerald.”

There’s a lot more pas­sion in this busi­ness than just the name.

“We hummed and haaed for ages about what to call our­selves,” says Gerald. “Okiwi is the vil­lage in north Great Bar­rier Is­land where we’re lo­cated and the pas­sion part comes from our pas­sion for food, for grow­ing in har­mony with na­ture, for Great Bar­rier Is­land and for work­ing with peo­ple. Noth­ing to do with pas­sion­fruit.”

Great Bar­rier Is­land has no retic­u­lated mains power so Okiwi Pas­sion is run solely by sus­tain­able power, with the ex­cep­tion of a small diesel gen­er­a­tor which is run for five hours ev­ery sec­ond day while Gerald un­der­goes kid­ney dial­y­sis treat­ment, the re­sult of a trans­planted or­gan be­ing re­jected in 2007.

The cou­ple host up to four WWOOFERS ( Will­ing Work­ers On Or­ganic Farms) from all over the world who help out at any one time. The mul­ti­cul­tural work­force are wel­comed by lo­cals and work at the gar­den for two months at a time, although they of­ten re­turn.

“They’re great, we couldn’t do it with­out them” says Caity. “We try to teach them as much as we can and hold classes in prop­a­ga­tion, graft­ing and other as­pects of the work… we of­ten hear back from them, or they send photos of the gar­dens they’ve es­tab­lished in the home­lands us­ing Okiwi Pas­sion prin­ci­ples.”

The Endts don’t ro­tary hoe their soil to avoid dis­turb­ing its struc­ture. In­stead, they mulch bam­boo stalks from the wind breaks and grow their pro­duce in com­post beds be­neath mounds of mulch. Then there’s the chooks. “Look at that,” says Gerald, mak­ing an ex­pan­sive ges­ture to­wards a file of flour­ish­ing fei­joa trees. “We couldn’t get them to grow be­cause of the bronze bee­tles. Then we found that the bee­tles win­ter over in the ground un­der the trees and put the chooks in there in late spring, just as the bee­tles hatched. The chooks eat the lar­vae and fer­tilised the trees – which are now thriv­ing – with their drop­pings, and we took the eggs to mar­ket. Magic.”

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