Organic Kiwi Gardens: Fresh Gardens' Sally Yu

By Rebecca Reider

Sally Yu runs organic Fresh Gardens in Kumeu. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Sally Yu runs organic Fresh Gardens in Kumeu. Photo / Ted Baghurst

It says something about our modern world that the most natural way of growing food is now also the most bureaucratic.

Organic growers document every spray they use, every sack of fertiliser they buy, every detail of their management plans. They are inspected yearly - a privilege they pay for - and are required to back up everything they tell their auditors with a paper trail.

To growers like Sally Yu, however, it's all part of supplying people with nutritious, safe food. Eating her own organic produce, she says, "I feel more energetic. I'm 40 years old but many people think I'm 27 or 28."

She wants others to feel the same. For seven years Sally sold organic herbs, salad greens and vegetables, from her family's Fresh Gardens farm in Kumeu, on trust. She met grateful returning customers at Auckland farmers' markets every week.

"They know what we do, they know how we do it," she says. "Some have come to visit us - for so many years we've built up that relationship."

Sally still sells face to face at Parnell Farmers' Market and La Cigale French Market on Saturdays, and Grey Lynn Farmers' Market on Sundays.

When Sally began supplying the Remuera New World supermarket, however, it was time to get formally accredited, so that store customers would know what they were getting. In October 2013, Fresh Gardens received full organic certification from BioGro, New Zealand's longest-running organic auditor.

Organic certification rules are strict. No synthetic chemicals can touch soil or plants. Instead, organic growers have to find creative ways of working with Mother Nature.

Take a pest like the leafminer fly, which lays eggs on some salad and vegetable crops. The hatching larvae burrow white trails into the leaves, making some crops cosmetically unsellable.

"Every adult female of the fly can produce 250 eggs in her life," Sally says - so just one on the loose can sabotage a lot of lettuce. She and her proactive staff have learned to use sticky insect traps which attract adult leafminers.

"Now our salad crops are almost free from those attacks," she says.

Though organic growing involves added risk and labour to keep on top of problem insects and weeds, Sally wouldn't have it any other way.

"Although organic food is more expensive than conventional, that's actually reflecting its true value," she says.

What's more, as an adult immigrant from China, she says, "I really enjoy it. There's no chance I could get to this scale" back in China.

"It's easy here as long as you don't mind work... You have to have passion."

Sally and her family grow vegetables for market, but they also raise pigs, chickens, ducks and sheep for themselves. It works well on both paddock and plate. The pigs and chickens get to eat excess veges, and their manure goes into the compost pile to nourish the next crop.

Recipe: Sally's Omelette

One of Sally's favourite dishes to make from her produce is a spinach omelette. She instructs: "Get a bag of spinach - 300 grams. You wash it, drain it, put it into a bowl, add some salt. Squeeze the water out, then put on a chopping board and chop into 2cm pieces. Mix and marinate it in a little bit of soy sauce, sugar, pepper, olive oil and parmesan cheese in another bowl. Beat four eggs, mix them with the spinach, and cook in oil in a fry pan."

Read the rest of the articles in the Organic Kiwi Gardens series:

Fleur Sullivan
Weleda's David Millin
John Pountney
Deborah and Nicholas

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