Horticulturalist keeps pace with the times
Kapiti Coast horticulturalist Andrew Yung has been in the business of growing veges for 40 years. Today, looking back on that journey Andrew says he’s seen a lot of change, some of it positive, some of it not so.
“I guess my biggest concern is in the overall quality of product finding its way on to supermarket shelves. This has been driven in part by the way veges are marketed, large scale at a fixed price for consumers,” Andrew says.
“Whereas years ago, a consumer could choose from a range of sizes of say, cabbages, to suit their needs, these days the production has been homogenised to ensure that all products pretty much are the same, with the same price,” he says.
“I think it’s taken away something of real value to consumers given the key-driver for supermarkets in particular is to have consistent quantity passing through.”
Andrew’s garden is based in Te Horo, between Waikanae and Otaki, though he started out growing on land in Otaki.
These days that area has been largely overtaken by life-style blocks but at one time, the rich alluvial soils grew a substantial amount of produce destined for Wellington and further afield.
The Te Horo plot has been operating for 33 years now and Andrew has created a niche specialising in growing Florence Fennel, a small amount of Celeriac (also called turnip-rooted celery), and Chinese veges.
The main-stay veges before this were tomatoes, spring onions, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce before concentrating on lettuce and celery alone.
“I’ve looked for crops I can handle. I went from labour intensive crops to crops that grew intensively. I grow upward of 50,000 celery and lettuce plants per hectare to maximise my income from the land.”
Andrew says it became necessary to specialise and the big change came when supermarkets wanted to buy off one or two supply growers.
“Another major change in my lifestyle was that I used to only market our produce in Wellington. “Our products were always in relatively good demand, enough for me to sustain the business.
“In times of over-supply we basically forced our local competitor growers to market their produce in other regions. However, because we are now growing niche crops, we now need to send produce further afield.”
These days there are not so many growers active in Andrew’s region, with a shift in growers moving to Levin, however he has no regrets about buying and developing the plot of land he is on.
“It is north facing and it is a frost free piece of land. That alone gives me a huge advantage. I have seen frosts to within 200m from my garden.”
When he first dabbled in growing fennel he produced five boxes a week then the explosion in interest came from the restaurant and hospitality sector.
“They got interested in us because we could guarantee good quantities of fennel. We produce 52 weeks a year with a 6.5 day working week. My wife and a loyal worker who has been with me for 35 years manage to make this work.”
And a tip for the consumer about keeping celery in top condition in the fridge: “When you have bought it, and its best to buy it whole, wet it and put it in a plastic bag.”