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Vagabonds lay their cards on the vege table

A Wairarapa organic market garden is going from strength to strength despite a range of challenges, but there is still room to grow.

Vagabond Vege, just outside Greytown, has been growing and selling fresh organic produce since late 2021. The collaborative human-scale operation on the old river terraces of the Waiohine river is owned and operated by just four people; Saskia Wanklyn, Elle Farr, Sheldon Levet, and Lise Van Laere. The four plant, grow, till, tend, harvest, and deliver all their crops themselves.

With just under 3,000 metres of the seven-acre area planted, the group have remained true to its values of regenerative farming that protects the soil, using no-till horticulture. No chemical or synthetic products are used, and dense and diverse planting practices are employed to enhance all aspects of the soil.

The client base has grown fast, with now almost 50 regular customers, including commercial outlets such as the White Swan in Greytown and Rita’s restaurant in Aro St in Wellington.

Changeable and often unpredictable weather patterns and rising costs mean the business is facing constant headwinds, however.

It’s hard to imagine, but the tranquil rows of gently ripening vegetables are fragile.

“Climate change is pushing the seasons out, so we are having to adapt to Spring being at a different time,” Levet said.

“It makes it hard when you’re in the shoulder season between two seasons. We might rely on what other growers use for timing or what previous knowledge is.

“But then, for example, in the Spring shoulder season, the kale just went to seed well before we expected it to, and we didn’t have a succession vegetable to plant,” Wanklyn said.

Bad weather has played havoc with crops.

“It’s these storms that are the worst thing, and they’re becoming more frequent,” Levet said.

“There’s little we can do.”

Apart from limited use of netting or delaying planting, the gardens are at the mercy of the elements in severe weather events.

Rising costs are another challenge.

“Pretty much everything has gone up; we have definitely had to increase prices to absorb the rising costs,” Wanklyn said.

The group are looking to expand their customer base, especially Community Supported Agriculture [CSA] clients. CSA allows people to collaborate with the market garden in an ongoing way.

Regular financial contributions from CSA members give the group security to help cover their costs. In return, members receive a share of the seasonal harvest.

While CSA vegetables tend not to be regular sizes and may look different to those in the supermarket, they’re grown in the best way to ensure their nutritional value. Not all vegetables are available every week, as seasonal growing practices are followed.

People interested in becoming part of the CSA scheme, or more information about the market garden, can find it at www.vagabondvege.nz

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