Q and A with Southern Belle Orchard
“Why use chemicals when you can harness nature?”
At Ooooby we are so fortunate that we get to partner and work with amazing farmers, local growers, and artisans. People that grow and crete the most incredible produce and products, such as the team from Southern Belle Orchard.
Merely a stone’s throw from the quaint town of Matamata, nestled in the shadow of the Kaimai Mountain range and only a short distance from the Waikato Plains. This is where you will find the Southern Belle Orchard. A beautiful oasis cared for and nurtured by the De Jong family and so now let’s get to know them a little better.
“It’s great to grow such a kiwi favourite!”
Why have you chosen to be a farmer and for how long have you been farming?
I used to work in a not-for-profit in Auckland in an office (which was fulfilling apart from being in an office chair all day), and my partner was working for the council in the CBD.
Then an opportunity came up to join my partner’s parents’ business in Matamata. We jumped at the opportunity to get out of the city and switch to a totally different lifestyle – that was 7 years ago, but the family has owned the orchard since 2003.
Why organic / regenerative / biodynamic farming over conventional farming?
It was already very important to my in-laws to grow produce in a natural, healthy way and this was in line with our beliefs as well. We just see it as the best and most logical grower method and it’s as simple as that for us. Why use chemicals when you can harness nature?
“We truly care deeply about the quality of what we grow.”
Why do you grow the products you do and what is your favourite produce to grow?
We grow feijoas outside in our orchard. Apart from being a massive feijoa lover myself, we find feijoas a very easy crop to manage in terms of low pest and disease pressure. It’s great to grow such a kiwi favourite! Do I need to say what my favourite produce to grow is? How could it not be feijoas!
We also grow capsicums and chillies in our greenhouses. This is a highly specialised crop and it’s certainly not easy to grow them. But we really enjoy growing such a high quality and tasty product and we have a lot of high-tech experience we can apply to keep improving all the time.
“Growing food is a really challenging, difficult and expensive business.”
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Feijoas: Trying to get the best out of our trees when the industry is too small to be able to fund research. Anything new we try (and we’re always doing that) can take 1-2 years to see the effect, and we still can’t be sure if it was another factor such as the weather at play.
Capsicums/Chillies: Managing pests! Growing naturally means you have to be preventative so constant monitoring is necessary – you need to apply the beneficial insects (to predate the bad ones) early before the problem gets out of control.
Overall: Increasing costs, such as wages, compliance, transport; but no such increasing grower returns! Trying to receive the premium we deserve for our high quality, naturally grown produce.
What do you wish consumers knew and appreciated about the food you grow?
Growing food is a really challenging, difficult and expensive business. We truly care deeply about the quality of what we grow.
What effect has working with Ooooby had on you?
It’s wonderful working with people who care just as much as us about good, natural fresh food.
“The awesome thing about capsicums is their versatility!”
What is the strangest / toughest thing you have tried to grow?
We tried beans once in our greenhouse over winter and it was an absolute disaster, every single baby bean had the little flower piece stick to it and rot 🙁
What is your favourite fruit / veg to eat?
Why feijoas of course!
Do you have a funny story / anecdote from your time in the field?
Often after pruning feijoa trees, when I undress I have all sorts of sticks and leaves fall out from my clothes. The other day I found a tiny spider had made a home under my shirt! (How did I not notice it earlier in the day??)
Do you have any particular recipes or ideas for the best use of some of your products?
The awesome thing about capsicums is their versatility! You can basically add them into any dish you’re making. We love roasting them in winter and putting them on the BBQ in summer.
To find out more:
Have a moment? Why not pour a cup of tea and watch them on this episode of Country Calendar?
Visit https://www.ooooby.co.nz to get all your organic food needs delivered to your home and don’t forget that all this great produce can help keep you healthy. Read here to learn more about boosting your immunity.