Mates in the states,
We’re about at the halfway point of our honeymoon/winter escape/farming-and-wilderness-adventure in New Zealand, and we figured it’s time to put out an update of our trip.
We are currently living and volunteering at Puramahoi Fields, a market garden in beautiful Golden Bay, at the far north of the South Island. Ben and Shane have been farming these 2 acres for about 2 1/2 years, and their farm is very similar to ours in many ways. Their beds are the same dimensions and they grow many of the same crops, but we are learning that the climate here makes things very different. The coastal winds are constant, and mild summers make it easy to grow greens year round. However, it’s difficult to get the heat needed for American summer staples like tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant.
Luckily we work half-days here, then have the afternoon and evening to explore the natural wonders of the region. A few miles away is a vast spring rising fast out of the ground, with crystal-clear water the Maori (indigenous New Zealanders) consider sacred. Yesterday we walked on the beach at the northern tip of the island and met some fat seals sunbathing under huge stone arches weathered by wind and ocean. We’ve probably done more camping and outdoors activities here than in the last three years combined, and it’s super refreshing to abandon our farm responsibilities for a little while.
Many of the wilderness trails here have “backcountry huts,” which are little cabins in the middle of nowhere complete with mattresses, woodstove, toilet, and sometimes even a gas cooking stove! This makes overnight backpacking, or “tramping” as they say here, very easy and popular. We’ve spent several days hiking in spectacular landscapes, ending the day in huts communing with local and international travelers.
The direct-to-consumer farming movement is not quite as powerful here as at home, but we’ve had plenty of opportunities to learn new things we hope to take home with us. This farm has a more intensive way of planting and trellising tomatoes that could be very useful on our small scale. They’ve also inspired us by being able to market all their goods locally in a small rural community. Last month we spent two weeks at Roebuck Farm, in the hills of the North Island that lie between the sea and Mt. Taranaki, a snow-capped volcano visible from anywhere in the district. Jodi Roebuck runs an educational and seed garden using bio intensive techniques and raises sheep on leased land in the neighborhood. We lent him our knowledge of vegetable growing by helping him to set up his own market garden, which will supply local restaurants in the coming year. Jodi taught us lots about building up soil structure and long-term fertility, and it was fascinating to see how he is using mob-style sheep grazing to rehabilitate overgraze land.
The sourdough bread scene is even scarcer than the local farm scene here. Michael’s only been able to participate as a consumer, seeking and sampling bread from bakeries and markets in every new town. One stand-out bread came from Volare Bread in Hamilton, which makes crusty sourdough hearth loaves he hopes to come close to this year with the new oven. In Auckland we had some excellent butter croissants from Amano that, to us, tasted like Saturday morning!
One short month and we’ll be back home, scheming and preparing for the 2017 season. At times we’ve spent days without thinking about our duties at home, but already we’re feeling the itch to be starting seeds in the basement and figuring out the wood oven. We miss our friends and family in the US and hope you’re having a restful winter. See you soon!