Home­grown Hand­made

Grow­ing a new pet health busi­ness

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Jane Wrig­glesworth

In 2011, the New Zealand Com­pan­ion An­i­mal Coun­cil re­ported that Ki­wis spend $766.2 mil­lion ev­ery year on dog and cat food. But that’s only half the es­ti­mated to­tal we fork out yearly on our furry com­pan­ions. We spend an­other $358.1 mil­lion on ve­teri­nary ser­vices, $204.3 mil­lion on other pet care ser­vices, and $255.3 mil­lion on pet care prod­ucts.

Those to­tals don’t in­clude bun­nies, guinea pigs, fish and birds.

Holis­tic ther­a­pist Anne Stu­art-menteath is work­ing to tap into this ever-ex­pand­ing mar­ket. She’s us­ing her vast knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to grow herbs to make an­i­mal heal­ing reme­dies, and she’s do­ing it or­gan­i­cally.

“I grew medic­i­nal herbs com­mer­cially for 15 years on a bio­dy­nam­i­cally-run small farm in Hor­sham Downs, on the north side of Hamil­ton, while I home­schooled my four chil­dren and ran a nat­u­ral health clinic,” says Anne.

“There was noth­ing there when we moved into the hay barn, and the land had not been cared for. It was an ideal prop­erty though, as it had not had a lot of chemical con­tam­i­na­tion from fer­tilis­ers, sprays or stock drenches.

“The down­side was that there was lit­tle fer­til­ity, only about 5cm of top­soil, no worm ac­tiv­ity, no birds and lots of pests.”

Anne used bio­dy­namic prepa­ra­tions and fer­tilis­ers, sea­weed, net­tle and com­frey teas, ver­mi­cast and home­made com­post to im­prove the soil life.

“It took about three years to have the bal­ance back, birds to con­trol pests, worms, and the soil mi­cro­biome in­creas­ing the avail­able nu­tri­ents for the plants and an­i­mals.”

Anne grew about 50 dif­fer­ent species of herbs and sent most of her sup­ply to two clients who made or­ganic prepa­ra­tions for sale in New Zealand and over­seas. She was told the qual­ity of her ma­te­rial – mostly dried – was the best they could buy any­where in the world.

But it all ended when au­thor­i­ties de­cided to put a mo­tor­way though her block.

“We fought the pro­posal for six years be­fore fi­nally giv­ing in. If they had not pur­chased the prop­erty there would have been a mo­tor­way run­ning along the bound­ary less than 30m away, no place to grow medicines for hu­man heal­ing with all the con­tam­i­nants from ve­hi­cles af­fect­ing the plants. Let alone the stress that it would – and al­ready was – caus­ing in our lives.”

Anne even­tu­ally moved back into town, but par­ty­ing by neigh­bours drove her out again. She bought a camper­van and went on the road, tak­ing part in life­style ex­pos, home and gar­den shows and spir­i­tual fairs. She worked with flower essences, whole­food nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments, aro­mather­apy oils, and other al­ter­na­tive health tech­niques. But the land was call­ing her. “Wwoofers had been a main­stay on my farm so I be­came one and helped friends and fam­ily on their prop­er­ties too.”

Then she met met up with a friend from her early days in the Bio­dy­namic As­so­ci­a­tion.

“He had been to my farm but I had never vis­ited his. As a bio­dy­namic farmer and herbal­ist, he in­vited me to come and grow herbs for him with a view to mak­ing an­i­mal reme­dies and herbal prepa­ra­tions to help the heal­ing of the soil.

“Here I still am, three years on, and we grow about 15 dif­fer­ent species of herbs.”

The big­gest chal­lenge they have faced is at­tempt­ing to get or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for their an­i­mal reme­dies. Anne says they were en­cour­aged by the cer­ti­fy­ing body, but af­ter hours of work jump­ing through hoops, they gave up.

“Some of the herbs re­quired to make an ef­fec­tive rem­edy are not able to be grown here and would have to be im­ported. Ev­ery item in ev­ery prod­uct has to be cer­ti­fied to US stan­dards be­cause of the ex­port mar­kets our clients are in­volved in.

“But ev­ery rem­edy we make from these items also has to be cer­ti­fied. This is just ab­surd, given that ev­ery farm is dif­fer­ent and ev­ery an­i­mal has its in­di­vid­ual re­quire­ments. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all for or­ganic farm an­i­mals, any more than one-size-fits-all for hu­mans. How­ever, our home-pro­duced prod­ucts can be cer­ti­fied, so we can start there.”

Sourc­ing or­ganic seed and plant ma­te­ri­als has also proved dif­fi­cult.

The big­gest chal­lenge they’ve faced is at­tempt­ing to get or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for their prod­ucts.

“The rules have changed so much since I was gar­den­ing. We can no longer im­port some of the seeds we want to grow. I find my­self wish­ing I’d kept stock plants some­where. We want to grow or­ganic mead­owsweet, globe ar­ti­choke and blue flag iris next sea­son, about 40 square me­tres of each, but have not found a vi­able source yet.”

Eco­nom­i­cally, it is not pos­si­ble to buy all the equip­ment they re­quire un­til they have an in­come to cover it. There is no green­house, and they are bor­row­ing farm­ing equip­ment like ro­tary hoes.

Their work is also labour-in­ten­sive. All their crops need to be hand-har­vested and hand­washed. Anne says she has learned a few tricks to make life eas­ier.

“I had weed mats with holes at 20cm cen­tres which we laid, so that has re­duced the weed­ing con­sid­er­ably.

“Some of the herbs are very tall and be­cause of the strong winds here, we’ve had to run sup­port fence lines to hold them up.

“The chamomile not only needed sup­port fences but also nets to grow through. It was back-break­ing work, bend­ing to har­vest the flow­ers that were ready sev­eral times over the sea­son, but now they stand up, it’s much eas­ier and quicker.”

Me­chan­i­cal har­vest­ing is not an op­tion as it can dam­age or bruise plants, low­er­ing the qual­ity. It does mean putting in more time, but it’s start­ing to pay off, says Anne.

“We are now us­ing our own chamomile, to help both the an­i­mals and the soil life.”

Soil micro­organ­isms carry out many im­por­tant pro­cesses, in­clud­ing sup­port for plant growth and cy­cling of car­bon and other nu­tri­ents. Past agri­cul­tural prac­tices, like ar­ti­fi­cial fer­tilis­ers, her­bi­cides, pes­ti­cides and chemical drenches, have dam­aged their prop­erty’s soil mi­cro­biome, says Anne.

“And now we have even more dam­age rav­aging the soil mi­cro­biome – and ours – with GMOS. Without soil mi­crobes such as bac­te­ria and fungi – and it’s the same in our own gut – noth­ing can hap­pen. Ninety per cent of who we are, our DNA, is our gut mi­cro­biome, liv­ing sym­bi­ot­i­cally with us, help­ing to pro­duce many of the nu­tri­ents and chemical re­ac­tions in our bod­ies.

“It’s the same in the soil. A healthy mi­cro­biome means a healthy soil, a healthy plant and a healthy an­i­mal or hu­man.”

Anne grows marsh­mal­low and har­vests the root to make a prod­uct that helps to sooth the lin­ing of the gut and the uri­nary tract.

Va­le­rian is an­other sooth­ing herb, says Anne.

“It takes out the spasms in the gut caused by re­ac­tions to acid soils and chemical tox­ins so it can heal. And the flower is great for heal­ing the soil.

“The only chal­lenge here is with har­vest­ing and clean­ing the roots. They are very fine and form a dense mat which has to be teased apart be­fore you can even be­gin to wash it.”

She cul­ti­vates dan­de­lion. If you’ve ever tried to dig out a dan­de­lion root, you’ll know it’s hard work. Cul­ti­vat­ing it makes it eas­ier to har­vest the roots in its sec­ond year.

“This is a very valu­able herb to help with detox­i­fi­ca­tion of the soil, the liver of the an­i­mal, and ours. We can’t avoid tox­ins – they’re in our wa­ter, air, food, and even in the bio­chem­istry within our bod­ies – so it makes sense to sup­port the liver in any way we can.”

Dan­de­lion, va­le­rian, marsh­mal­low and chamomile are all an im­por­tant part of the bio­dy­namic way of farm­ing, says Anne.

“They heal the soil and make nu­tri­ents more avail­able. We use them in our

“We can no longer im­port some of the seeds we want to grow. I find my­self wish­ing I’d kept stock plants some­where.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.