Pukekohe market gardeners, the Bhana family, live in a rural zone but across the road houses are sprouting up on a paddock they were cropping potatoes two years ago.

In the past 10 years, about 16 per cent of Pukekohe's dark brown, volcanic soil has been taken over for houses, and more is under threat from the city's new planning rulebook.

More than 5000 new houses are in the pipeline in Pukekohe and neighbouring Paerata - and another 9000 are planned in the two areas over the next decade.

"We are genuinely worried the elite soils are getting eaten up for housing," says Bharat Bhana, whose family have been growing vegetables in Pukekohe since 1957.


Pukekohe, surrounded by market gardens, is the last food basket left in Auckland.

With a generation of four Bhana brothers coming up for retirement, Bharat says they could make a fortune selling about 50ha of their land zoned for future residential use.

"We are passionate and realise we are here as caretakers, to look after what we have got and think of future generations. We are in the food business and proud of what we do," Bharat says.

Bharat wonders how long the business will be able to cope with the pressures of "reverse sensitivity" - residential neighbours complaining about the smell of spray, noise and dirt on the road.

"We are losing the right to farm because of the pressures of urbanisation," says Dinesh Bhana.

If Auckland is not careful, say the Bhanas, Pukekohe will run out of soil to feed the city and will have to import vegetables.