Innovation is at the heart of every business that wants to survive for generations to come and Cam and Catherine Lewis has been working on expanding their asparagus growing into other produce over the last year, in particular strawberries.

And that is only the beginning.

"Though we have never had a labour shortage, it is becoming more and more difficult to hold on to good staff, especially supervisors, if you can only provide work for a few months each year," said Cam Lewis, who is the fourth generation of Lewis farmers on the piece of land they call their own.

The asparagus season is only 100 days long, roughly from September until Christmas and then most workers need to find jobs elsewhere. Cam's father Geoff, who's been growing asparagus for 37 years, had been wondering for some time what else he could do to diversify his income stream and provide more work for his staff, Cam said.

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"It was also a matter of what would go well with asparagus in terms of the growing season."

They discovered that many asparagus growers in Europe also grow strawberries. Last year Lewis Farms began growing strawberries hydroponically in poly tunnels.

They invested in 105,000 strawberry plants and 15 poly tunnels.

"That system will eventually allow us to grow strawberries for up to 10 months of the year and we are hoping to find a way to make that 12 months.

"The Horowhenua climate makes growing strawberries easier too," said Catherine.

They said that as the volume will decrease in the autumn/winter time, the prices will go up.

Having experimented with growing strawberries this way for a year now, they say growing strawberries into winter remains a great unknown.

"We are always experimenting and learning. We have learned at lot this year and will find a way that will work for us. If we grew strawberries outdoors there would definitely be a clash between the growing seasons of both our crops. The tunnels make this venture possible for us."

The current crop have gone in in September to ensure there is fruit well into May. Lewis Farms grow a variety not available to home growers and through the nursery where they buy their plants each year they also pay a royalty to the University of California, who owns the licence for this particular variety.

"It is variety that can handle fruiting at this time of the year and can also stand the heat as it does get hot in the poly tunnels."

Their very first planting took 15 people about three weeks to do and they are experimenting with staggered planting to ensure the season is extended.

They said the lower North Island supermarkets they supply are delighted at the prospect of being able to sell strawberries in autumn. "The demand from customers is huge."

As a local grower passionate about sustainability the Lewises provide various grades and sizes of strawberries, to cater to all pockets and to ensure nothing goes to waste. They supply supermarkets but also run a shop at their farm, which is very popular with the locals.

Catherine's involvement with the Horowhenua Taste Trail has opened their eyes to what others in Horowhenua do and they have expanded their shop range to include products from other local producers such as Genoese.

In their first year of growing strawberries they were able to grow their team of workers from six to 20.

The Lewis Farms shop is open on weekdays from 8am to 5pm and on weekends from 9am to 5pm and you can find them at 747 State Highway 1, Poroutawhao, Levin 5572.