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Local growers share in the abundance

Tucked behind Woodside Road just off Monty’s Lane in Greytown is a veritable vegetable paradise.

Vagabond Vege, Wairarapa’s latest community-supported agriculture [CSA] farm, is bursting with greens of every hue, with splashes of tomato red and sunflower yellow thrown in as the growing season reaches its peak.

It has taken just two and half years for friends Elle Farr, Sheldon Levet, Saskia Wanklyn and Lisa Van Laere to turn a collection of rocky paddocks into 3000 square metres of “abundance”.

Drawn together by a mutual interest in the environment and food systems, the group’s shared ambition “to do something together” was realised when a friend offered them some land with the question: “Would you consider living on this land and starting your farm here?”

This summer, the Vagabonds’ bounty has supplied over 70 families in Wairarapa and, more recently, Wellington with boxes of fresh vegetables every week, and provided Carterton Farmers’ Market with weekly deliveries of produce.

“None of us ever expected to come to Wairarapa”, Farr said. “So we were all very Tucked behind Woodside Road just off Monty’s Lane in Greytown is a veritable vegetable paradise.

Vagabond Vege, Wairarapa’s latest community-supported agriculture [CSA] farm, is bursting with greens of every hue, with splashes of tomato red and sunflower yellow thrown in as the growing season reaches its peak.

It has taken just three and half years for friends Elle Farr, Sheldon Levet, Saskia Wanklyn and Lisa Van Laere to turn a collection of rocky paddocks into 2500 square metres of “abundance”.

Drawn together by a mutual interest in the environment and food systems, the group’s shared ambition “to do something together” was realised when a friend offered them some land with the question: “Would you consider living on this land and starting your farm here?”

This summer, the Vagabonds’ bounty has supplied over 70 families in Wairarapa and, more recently, Wellington with boxes of fresh vegetables every week, and provided Carterton Farmers’ Market with weekly deliveries of produce.

“None of us ever expected to come to Wairarapa”, Farr said. “So we were all very fresh to the region, but we just decided to do it. And it came with all these hurdles – like this place is full of rocks. Like lots and lots of rocks, and big rocks.”

Twelve months of “rock-pulling” meant the Vagabonds were “slow off the ground in terms of growing food”, Farr said. But even so, by Christmas 2021, they were growing and selling – in a small way – easy-to-grow veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, radishes and greens.

In January 2022, Vagabond Vege was able to launch its CSA model of selling produce to the local community.

“The idea [behind the CSA] is people are signing up for a season’s worth of growing, for a share in the harvest,” Farr explained. “It’s based on the idea of people sharing in the abundance and the hard times.”

Choosing to buy fresh produce from a CSA “takes a lot of commitment”, Farr said. It means eating seasonally – “embracing what’s there” – and sometimes crop failures will mean less of a certain type of vegetable.

But, for Farr, the benefits of the CSA approach outweigh the risks for consumers. “It also means you are investing in small-scale, real food systems. People feel really connected to their food, and to the people growing the food, and to the place the food comes from.”

Knowing how much to grow and understanding crop yields “has been such a big hurdle”, Farr said – and every season brings the team a greater understanding of the land and its capabilities.

“We do a lot of planning”, she said.

“We are constantly collecting data and keeping records, trying to understand how much we can harvest from a bed of radish, for example. How long will it last us, and how long will they keep, and when will they bolt, and all these factors.”

Vagabond Vege use a no-till, chemical-free approach to growing produce, which is all raised from seed in greenhouses on-site.

“It’s soil-first growing, so keeping roots in the ground where possible and minimal disturbance, companion planting, and poly-cropping – that is planting diverse species in the beds,” Farr said.

Insect netting is the team’s first port of call to control pest species, but they also use a bacteria treatment to minimise the damage from cabbage white butterflies, which are the biggest threat to brassica crops like kale and broccoli.

“It’s not ideal – but it is a bacteria, not a chemical, and highly targeted,” Farr said.

“It knocks the butterfly out at the caterpillar stage.”

The experience of developing Vagabond Vege has been a seminal one for these growers, who are all in their 20s.

“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs in terms of relationships. It’s been a really intense few years, for sure. But lots of growth, and we are in a great place now,” Farr said.

The teams’ blend of strong values, pragmatism, and working to each other’s strengths and passions has helped in what Farr describes as a “crash course in getting to know a place”.

“I think that’s one of the pros of working as a team – we get to challenge ideas and have lots of different opinions and thinking on things.

“And we’ve all got different experiences as well. And that’s really great, I think, especially in terms of not becoming dogmatic about stuff, always staying open and questioning, and having lots and lots of curiosity.”

For more information about Vagabond Vege, and to sign up for the autumn season, visit www.vagabondvege.nz/. fresh to the region, but we just decided to do it. And it came with all these hurdles – like this place is full of rocks. Like lots and lots of rocks, and big rocks.”

Twelve months of “rock-pulling” meant the Vagabonds were “slow off the ground in terms of growing food”, Farr said. But even so, by Christmas 2021, they were growing and selling – in a small way – easy-to-grow veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, radishes and greens.

In January 2022, Vagabond Vege was able to launch its CSA model of selling produce to the local community.

“The idea [behind the CSA] is people are signing up for a season’s worth of growing, for a share in the harvest,” Farr explained. “It’s based on the idea of people sharing in the abundance and the hard times.”

Choosing to buy fresh produce from a CSA “takes a lot of commitment”, Farr said. It means eating seasonally – “embracing what’s there” – and sometimes crop failures will mean less of a certain type of vegetable.

But, for Farr, the benefits of the CSA approach outweigh the risks for consumers. “It also means you are investing in small-scale, real food systems. People feel really connected to their food, and to the people growing the food, and to the place the food comes from.”

Knowing how much to grow and understanding crop yields “has been such a big hurdle”, Farr said – and every season brings the team a greater understanding of the land and its capabilities.

“We do a lot of planning”, she said.

“We are constantly collecting data and keeping records, trying to understand how much we can harvest from a bed of radish, for example. How long will it last us, and how long will they keep, and when will they bolt, and all these factors.”

Vagabond Vege use a no-till, chemical-free approach to growing produce, which is all raised from seed in greenhouses on-site.

“It’s soil-first growing, so keeping roots in the ground where possible and minimal disturbance, companion planting, and poly-cropping – that is planting diverse species in the beds,” Farr said.

Insect netting is the team’s first port of call to control pest species, but they also use a bacteria treatment to minimise the damage from cabbage white butterflies, which are the biggest threat to brassica crops like kale and broccoli.

“It’s not ideal – but it is a bacteria, not a chemical, and highly targeted,” Farr said.

“It knocks the butterfly out at the caterpillar stage.”

The experience of developing Vagabond Vege has been a seminal one for these growers, who are all in their 20s.

“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs in terms of relationships. It’s been a really intense few years, for sure. But lots of growth, and we are in a great place now,” Farr said.

The teams’ blend of strong values, pragmatism, and working to each other’s strengths and passions has helped in what Farr describes as a “crash course in getting to know a place”.

“I think that’s one of the pros of working as a team – we get to challenge ideas and have lots of different opinions and thinking on things.

“And we’ve all got different experiences as well. And that’s really great, I think, especially in terms of not becoming dogmatic about stuff, always staying open and questioning, and having lots and lots of curiosity.”

For more information about Vagabond Vege, and to sign up for the autumn season, visit www.vagabondvege.nz/. fresh to the region, but we just decided to do it. And it came with all these hurdles – like this place is full of rocks. Like lots and lots of rocks, and big rocks.”

Twelve months of “rock-pulling” meant the Vagabonds were “slow off the ground in terms of growing food”, Farr said. But even so, by Christmas 2021, they were growing and selling – in a small way – easy-to-grow veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, radishes and greens.

In January 2022, Vagabond Vege was able to launch its CSA model of selling produce to the local community.

“The idea [behind the CSA] is people are signing up for a season’s worth of growing, for a share in the harvest,” Farr explained. “It’s based on the idea of people sharing in the abundance and the hard times.”

Choosing to buy fresh produce from a CSA “takes a lot of commitment”, Farr said. It means eating seasonally – “embracing what’s there” – and sometimes crop failures will mean less of a certain type of vegetable.

But, for Farr, the benefits of the CSA approach outweigh the risks for consumers. “It also means you are investing in small-scale, real food systems. People feel really connected to their food, and to the people growing the food, and to the place the food comes from.”

Knowing how much to grow and understanding crop yields “has been such a big hurdle”, Farr said – and every season brings the team a greater understanding of the land and its capabilities.

“We do a lot of planning”, she said.

“We are constantly collecting data and keeping records, trying to understand how much we can harvest from a bed of radish, for example. How long will it last us, and how long will they keep, and when will they bolt, and all these factors.”

Vagabond Vege use a no-till, chemical-free approach to growing produce, which is all raised from seed in greenhouses on-site.

“It’s soil-first growing, so keeping roots in the ground where possible and minimal disturbance, companion planting, and poly-cropping – that is planting diverse species in the beds,” Farr said.

Insect netting is the team’s first port of call to control pest species, but they also use a bacteria treatment to minimise the damage from cabbage white butterflies, which are the biggest threat to brassica crops like kale and broccoli.

“It’s not ideal – but it is a bacteria, not a chemical, and highly targeted,” Farr said.

“It knocks the butterfly out at the caterpillar stage.”

The experience of developing Vagabond Vege has been a seminal one for these growers, who are all in their 20s.

“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs in terms of relationships. It’s been a really intense few years, for sure. But lots of growth, and we are in a great place now,” Farr said.

The teams’ blend of strong values, pragmatism, and working to each other’s strengths and passions has helped in what Farr describes as a “crash course in getting to know a place”.

“I think that’s one of the pros of working as a team – we get to challenge ideas and have lots of different opinions and thinking on things.

“And we’ve all got different experiences as well. And that’s really great, I think, especially in terms of not becoming dogmatic about stuff, always staying open and questioning, and having lots and lots of curiosity.”

For more information about Vagabond Vege, and to sign up for the autumn season, visit www.vagabondvege.nz/ fresh to the region, but we just decided to do it. And it came with all these hurdles – like this place is full of rocks. Like lots and lots of rocks, and big rocks.”

Twelve months of “rock-pulling” meant the Vagabonds were “slow off the ground in terms of growing food”, Farr said. But even so, by Christmas 2021, they were growing and selling – in a small way – easy-to-grow veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, radishes and greens.

In January 2022, Vagabond Vege was able to launch its CSA model of selling produce to the local community.

“The idea [behind the CSA] is people are signing up for a season’s worth of growing, for a share in the harvest,” Farr explained. “It’s based on the idea of people sharing in the abundance and the hard times.”

Choosing to buy fresh produce from a CSA “takes a lot of commitment”, Farr said. It means eating seasonally – “embracing what’s there” – and sometimes crop failures will mean less of a certain type of vegetable.

But, for Farr, the benefits of the CSA approach outweigh the risks for consumers. “It also means you are investing in small-scale, real food systems. People feel really connected to their food, and to the people growing the food, and to the place the food comes from.”

Knowing how much to grow and understanding crop yields “has been such a big hurdle”, Farr said – and every season brings the team a greater understanding of the land and its capabilities.

“We do a lot of planning”, she said.

“We are constantly collecting data and keeping records, trying to understand how much we can harvest from a bed of radish, for example. How long will it last us, and how long will they keep, and when will they bolt, and all these factors.”

Vagabond Vege use a no-till, chemical-free approach to growing produce, which is all raised from seed in greenhouses on-site.

“It’s soil-first growing, so keeping roots in the ground where possible and minimal disturbance, companion planting, and poly-cropping – that is planting diverse species in the beds,” Farr said.

Insect netting is the team’s first port of call to control pest species, but they also use a bacteria treatment to minimise the damage from cabbage white butterflies, which are the biggest threat to brassica crops like kale and broccoli.

“It’s not ideal – but it is a bacteria, not a chemical, and highly targeted,” Farr said.

“It knocks the butterfly out at the caterpillar stage.”

The experience of developing Vagabond Vege has been a seminal one for these growers, who are all in their 20s.

“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs in terms of relationships. It’s been a really intense few years, for sure. But lots of growth, and we are in a great place now,” Farr said.

The teams’ blend of strong values, pragmatism, and working to each other’s strengths and passions has helped in what Farr describes as a “crash course in getting to know a place”.

“I think that’s one of the pros of working as a team – we get to challenge ideas and have lots of different opinions and thinking on things.

“And we’ve all got different experiences as well. And that’s really great, I think, especially in terms of not becoming dogmatic about stuff, always staying open and questioning, and having lots and lots of curiosity.”

For more information about Vagabond Vege, and to sign up for the autumn season, visit www.vagabondvege.nz/ fresh to the region, but we just decided to do it. And it came with all these hurdles – like this place is full of rocks. Like lots and lots of rocks, and big rocks.”

Twelve months of “rock-pulling” meant the Vagabonds were “slow off the ground in terms of growing food”, Farr said. But even so, by Christmas 2021, they were growing and selling – in a small way – easy-to-grow veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, radishes and greens.

In January 2022, Vagabond Vege was able to launch its CSA model of selling produce to the local community.

“The idea [behind the CSA] is people are signing up for a season’s worth of growing, for a share in the harvest,” Farr explained. “It’s based on the idea of people sharing in the abundance and the hard times.”

Choosing to buy fresh produce from a CSA “takes a lot of commitment”, Farr said. It means eating seasonally – “embracing what’s there” – and sometimes crop failures will mean less of a certain type of vegetable.

But, for Farr, the benefits of the CSA approach outweigh the risks for consumers. “It also means you are investing in small-scale, real food systems. People feel really connected to their food, and to the people growing the food, and to the place the food comes from.”

Knowing how much to grow and understanding crop yields “has been such a big hurdle”, Farr said – and every season brings the team a greater understanding of the land and its capabilities.

“We do a lot of planning”, she said.

“We are constantly collecting data and keeping records, trying to understand how much we can harvest from a bed of radish, for example. How long will it last us, and how long will they keep, and when will they bolt, and all these factors.”

Vagabond Vege use a no-till, chemical-free approach to growing produce, which is all raised from seed in greenhouses on-site.

“It’s soil-first growing, so keeping roots in the ground where possible and minimal disturbance, companion planting, and poly-cropping – that is planting diverse species in the beds,” Farr said.

Insect netting is the team’s first port of call to control pest species, but they also use a bacteria treatment to minimise the damage from cabbage white butterflies, which are the biggest threat to brassica crops like kale and broccoli.

“It’s not ideal – but it is a bacteria, not a chemical, and highly targeted,” Farr said.

“It knocks the butterfly out at the caterpillar stage.”

The experience of developing Vagabond Vege has been a seminal one for these growers, who are all in their 20s.

“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs in terms of relationships. It’s been a really intense few years, for sure. But lots of growth, and we are in a great place now,” Farr said.

The teams’ blend of strong values, pragmatism, and working to each other’s strengths and passions has helped in what Farr describes as a “crash course in getting to know a place”.

“I think that’s one of the pros of working as a team – we get to challenge ideas and have lots of different opinions and thinking on things.

“And we’ve all got different experiences as well. And that’s really great, I think, especially in terms of not becoming dogmatic about stuff, always staying open and questioning, and having lots and lots of curiosity.”

For more information about Vagabond Vege, and to sign up for the autumn season, visit www.vagabondvege.nz/

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