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.
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.”