Updated: Aug 5, 2020
A patchwork of leafy and corrugated squares trundled by an orange tractor, storybook pretty, Oamaru Organics is one of the oldest and largest organic growers in the South Island and the region’s only grower of many brassica and leafy crops (not to mention prize winning: they knocked Hawkes Bay into a cocked hat at the New Zealand Farmers Market Awards). Recently purchased by Queenstown’s James Porteous, Nigel Clark has been involved with this chemical-free near-30 hectares for 20 years. There’s a lot of labour cost to being organic ‒ while others spray with Roundup (and walk away) Oamaru Organics staff need to turn the soil over much more and apply a pungent mix of fish and seaweed as fertiliser in July and August to give the plants a boost.
“A lot of growers would be jealous of this soil,” says Nigel. Constantly giving back and improving soil health, Oamaru Organics supply organics shops in Queenstown, Wanaka, Oamaru and Dunedin seasonally with beetroot, broccoli, brocoflower, cabbage, fennel, kale, lettuce, onions, pak choi, pumpkin, radish, spinach, yams, zucchini and a range of potatoes: Agria, redking, desiree … in addition to their famous organic Jersey Bennies. The organic farm grew over time, with Nigel crediting farmers markets with building essential one-on-one connections, one of the things he finds
most rewarding. Formerly a truck driver who hated long hours, he doesn’t mind them quite so much now because of the variety. “It’s great, you’re doing half a dozen jobs through the day,” he says. “We’re really lucky here in Oamaru with the Pacifica community, they come and pick our potatoes,” singing all the while, boosting staff numbers to around 36 from the usual half dozen.
For Nigel, organics are all about truth. “It’s about being honest. A lot of people say ‘spray free, free range’ but if you want to make healthy choices in this world of highly processed foods then you need to know it’s true.” It’s tricky to supply organics year round, the worst time winter to spring because this is how things actually grow when not artificially stimulated. “It’s bit of a juggling act, you don’t just go from one paddock to another. Each season’s different.”
The land the farm lies on boasts the same limestone bedrock that famously sweetens produce grown in the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark. “People do talk about the flavour,” says Nigel, “it’s really distinct in our Jersey Bennes.” Planted at the highest point to avoid frost, Nigel says the limestone rock is warmer here, giving his spuds the crop equivalent of an electric blanket beneath the good earth. Now that’s caring for your veges.
By Lisa Scott