Q and A with David Whyte
“I wanted to produce the most nutritious food for my own family.”
Choosing a life that does not fit the mold is not always easy, nor for everyone, but David Whyte from Zestos has forged his own path and is now producing some of the most delicious, nutrient rich citrus fruit available. Here is what David Whyte has to say about being an organic grower in New Zealand.
Why have you chosen to be a farmer and for how long have you been farming?
I fell into producing citrus by accident. We moved to Huntly from Hamilton, as we were in our early 30’s young kids, and couldn’t afford to buy in Hamilton. After a few years in a suburb that was ‘interesting’, we saw a lifestyle block that was very good value. We sold our house and bought it.
The bank in giving the loan, made us promise to cut down all the citrus trees, otherwise it would be a business loan not a home loan.
Fortunately, we only cut down enough to move a house and associated material onsite, we knew nothing about citrus, except for being lovers of trees in general.
Why organic / regenerative / biodynamic farming over conventional farming?
Biological farming instead of conventional. No brainer! I am a researcher by trade (physics then opto-electronics then biotech / biochemistry and now into fungi) and wanted to produce the most nutritious food for my own family. So why would you not do this for others as well?
“Ooooby has enabled a healthy lifestyle for the family”
Why do you grow the products you do and what is your favourite produce to grow?
As I mentioned before, we inherited the tangelo and orange trees with the land. So had no other option! I do love the Washington Navels and would never have a place without them.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
To be honest paperwork. We have just paid a significant chunk last year to be properly registered and inspected as dictated by central governments 2014 food bill.
Coming down the pipeline will be compulsory accreditation for organic farms. Which means we either have to limit our production so we don’t go over the cap of turnover, which triggers accreditation or become accredited.
The problem with accreditation is that it will not remove any ‘bad’ stuff – since we don’t apply anything bad, nor add any value, but will increase costs.
Furthermore, it will stop innovation. Previously we purchased some biodynamic preparations. Although these are obviously organic, they were not accredited so are difficult to use in a certified organic system.
“we want to produce food that produces life, health, and vitality.”
What do you wish consumers knew and appreciated about the food you grow?
Our produce has the full range of trace elements, which are often not found in citrus from elsewhere. We got rung up by the soil and leaf testing company when we ticked all the trace element testing boxes we did.
In horticultural applications, these trace elements are not required, but to us, it is important since we want to produce food that produces life, health, and vitality.
Although selenium, cobalt, and iodine are not required for plant growth, they are required for optimal human health. These elements were not in our soil, so we added them. Therefore when eating our crop you are getting a full range of trace elements that supports your body.
What effect has working with Ooooby had on you?
We have worked with Ooooby exclusively almost since inception and it has enabled a healthy lifestyle for the family, where we can maintain the work-life balance that is required for healthy living.
We used to attend farmer’s markets, however, my wife and kids were at work / school Monday to Friday. Then Saturday was spent picking, cleaning, packing the van. Up early Sunday and selling till lunchtime, arriving exhausted mid-afternoon back home. I was able to take Monday off, but the whanau were not. This wasn’t a healthy lifestyle and one that was very draining.
Ooooby has allowed me to do the picking during the week, then washing (and grading out substandard ones if required) as a family on a weekday evening. Then I deliver the product to Ooooby.
“kind of like a bit of summer snuck into winter.”
What is the strangest / toughest thing you have tried to grow?
I really want to successfully grow are subtropical fruits, which is a challenge in the North Waikato were -2C frosts occur once or twice over winter. We are having some success with our first casimiroa (tastes like ice cream) fruiting this year. In time I would love to get Ice Cream Beans growing and fruiting at our place. We will see!
What is your favourite fruit / veg to eat?
My favourite fruit is tree-ripened granny smiths. Leave them on the tree till at least late June, when they start to change color to get a yellow blush and taste sweet and juicy They are divine. With no summer fruits left, these apples are kind of like a bit of summer snuck into winter. I remember eating them as a kid like this, so no doubt some nostalgia in there too.
Do you have a funny story / anecdote from your time in the field?
Tangelo wine doesn’t mature well! One year at the very end of the tangelo season I juiced a couple of litres of tangelo juice. Added yeast and wine nutrient and fermented it out. Once clarified I bottled up and put away for a month or two.
Typically a wine tastes quite harsh until 6 months of age, then slowly improves for some time after this. After about 3 months, my brother and I were doing some homebrew tastings and decided to see how the tangelo wine was going. It tasted pretty good, it had low body which the next batch could be corrected with tannins, but had good color, reasonable taste, so given it was still very young I was very pleased with myself.
I put it away again and pulled out 6+ months later expecting to have a pleasant wine. It was very unpleasantly bitter, so much so it got put down the drain. I was so gutted, and peeved that my hard work had come to nothing and that it got worse with age instead of better! So very unexpected.
Do you have any particular recipes or ideas for the best use of some of your products?
My mother in law makes a wicked dessert that uses candied tangelo peel sprinkled on top of tangelo ice cream. I have no idea about the recipe but it is delicious.
To find out more:
You can pop on over to David Whytes YouTube channel to learn more about what they are doing on the farm: David Whyte YouTube
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.