Summer and strawberries, is there anything better? Whether on top of a pavlova, in real fruit ice-cream or eaten fresh, strawberries make summer that extra bit delicious. This summer will be sweeter than usual because an established Horowhenua producer has entered the strawberry market - Lewis Farms Strawberries.
There are a few things that make Lewis Farms Strawberries unique. Perhaps most exciting is that, in contrast to other producers, Lewis Farms will be able to grow strawberries right through to May each year. An extended season means extended eating, which is sure to please strawberry lovers.
From asparagus to strawberries - it’s all about the team
Lewis Farms is the home of Tendertips Asparagus, the iconic Horowhenua family business entering its 37th year. Cam and Catherine Lewis are fourth generation farmers continuing the family business, which is now diversifying into strawberries. A major driving force for diversification is to provide ongoing work for their staff.
“The asparagus season is only 100 days. Every year we go from a core team of six, to a workforce of over 150 staff, then we have to say ‘see you, we hope you come back next year!’ A big reason why we have gone into strawberries is so we can retain the labour force as well as utilise our packhouse,” Catherine says.
While there will be a busy period where the asparagus and strawberry picking overlap, the longer strawberry season and required planting will mean more staff can be employed up to 12 months of the year.
Cam and Catherine are confident there is sufficient demand in New Zealand for a new strawberry producer to enter the market. Particularly with the superior tasting strawberries they are targeting.
Tunnels, tables and technology make Lewis Farms unique
To establish Lewis Farms Strawberries, Cam and Catherine have chosen an innovative growing technology that is relatively new in New Zealand. They have invested in polytunnels, with strawberries grown on tables, rather than on the ground. This is combined with sophisticated technology that allows control over what water and food the plants receive.
“It’s our goal that the flavour profile and appearance of the strawberries will be premium – a large, sweet strawberry,” Catherine says.
MG Marketing, a co-operative representing producers, has worked with Lewis Farms during their diversification journey. “With adverse weather conditions occurring in New Zealand, growing under cover and out of the ground takes away the risk to the strawberries. The result is a better quality product with a greater shelf life,” says Peter Hendry, Chief Executive Officer of MG Marketing.
“It’s exciting because consumers have an opportunity to access good quality, New Zealand grown strawberries right through to early Autumn. Generally, the New Zealand strawberry season finishes in January, and after this time strawberries are imported from other countries,” he says.
A new business brings new challenges
The first strawberries are ready right now, after more than a year of planning and preparation. The polytunnels were shipped from the United Kingdom and assembled in February 2018. This involved constructing 15 long tunnels, covering 1.1 hectares of land. The strawberry plants, sourced from the upper North Island, were then planted. In May 2018, Lewis Farms employed an agronomist to manage the plants and ensure they grow as well as possible in this first season.
Starting a new business venture involves risk. The upfront investment in the polytunnel technology relies on successful crops to establish the business.
“The learning curve has been immense, and we have again been reminded of the challenges of doing something new. We are confident that we will learn quickly but people say horticulture, is “high risk” for a reason. We believe working through the challenges will help define our strawberries as we are absolutely determined in producing a gourmet offering which is nothing but the best. We couldn’t do it without our team. Cam and I do get a buzz out of employing people and being able to offer them work. Our team are amazing, we love our staff and they give us heaps,” Catherine says.
Cam and Catherine intend for Lewis Farms Strawberries to become another longstanding Horowhenua premium product, alongside Tendertips Asparagus. The scale of the operation means an abundance of strawberries will be grown in the Horowhenua. The strawberries will be sold in supermarkets and at the Tendertips packhouse at Poroutawhao, on State Highway 1.
Catherine sees the packhouse as evolving into a visitor destination. “This year it will be selling asparagus, fresh strawberries, coffee, honey and ice-cream. We want people to stop in, have a break, grab their fresh produce and enjoy,” she says.
What to expect on the Horowhenua Taste Trail
The future really is sweet for Lewis Farms. Participants on the Horowhenua Taste Trail will be some of the first people to try fresh strawberries from this new and exciting business.
On the day of the Horowhenua Taste Trail, the Tendertips packhouse will be a hub of activity.
The day will kick off with a champagne breakfast (sold out), with food prepared in front of the Participants by Ocean Beach Eatery.
There will be a pop-up garden bar and café. Throughout the day there will be tours of the strawberry tunnels and technology, as well as tours of the packhouse. Participants have the opportunity to buy fresh produce and fresh fruit ice-cream.
There will also be a Horowhenua Taster Plate available for those who have pre-purchased this as part of their ticket. A limited number of Taster Plates will be available on the day for an additional cost.
When you’re buying your fresh fruit and veggies, how often do you think about who was responsible for growing them? Chances are, at least some of the vegetables you buy during the year are grown right here in the Horowhenua.
Driving through the Horowhenua region, there are expansive fields with symmetrical rows of different types of vegetables. Referred to by locals as the “market gardens”, these gardens provide the North Island with a fresh supply of vegetables throughout the year.
“Our district is full of high quality class 1 and 2 soils, resulting in fertile and versatile land for growing produce. As such, ‘fresh vegetables’ has been recognised in the New Zealand Government’s Regional Economic Action Plan as one of nine key opportunities to make our region prosperous, strong and vibrant”, says Shanon Grainger, Economic Development Manager at the Horowhenua District Council.
Woodhaven Gardens – a truly local family business
Woodhaven Gardens is a produce powerhouse in the Horowhenua. Last year, it sold 1,422,026 cases of vegetables, with an average count per case of 15 heads of produce. That’s over 20 million vegetables grown and distributed, helping Kiwis get their 5+ a day.
From kitchen staples such as broccoli, lettuce and pumpkin, to the more specialised kale and celeriac, Woodhaven grows over 12 types of produce.
Woodhaven is very much a local family business, employing local workers, supplemented by Registered Seasonal Employer (RSE) staff to increase numbers, as required. This year, Woodhaven has employed in excess of 160 staff.
“We supply all our product via the central marketing system. This means our product ends up in both super market chains, green grocers and wholesalers alike”, says Emma Clarke, Sales and Human Resources Manager at Woodhaven.
Emma is the daughter of John Clarke, who started the business in 1978, along with his father, Eric, and mother, Honora. Forty years later, John continues to lead Woodhaven as Managing Director.
The Horowhenua has been the perfect location for the Clarke family to thrive. “Levin has been a brilliant place to both grow up, raise a family and grow our business. It is small enough to be able to develop great connections, some of which have gone on to be generational. As a business we are close to the State highway and we access our main markets both Auckland, Wellington, and Palmerston North rather effectively”, says Emma.
Focussed on sustainability
Woodhaven recognises it has a part to play to ensure its horticultural impact is managed sustainably. A socially responsible business model will ensure the longevity of the business into the future.
In 2016, Woodhaven won the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award at the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. This award recognised Woodhaven’s excellent soil management through initiatives such as investment in tracking software; controlled traffic farming; crop rotation and retiring fields to pasture/maize.
“Back in 2016 was just the start of our sustainability journey. We have far exceeded that point now – with many exciting mitigation practises being rolled out over the next 12 months”, says Emma.
The Horowhenua Taste Trail will give Participants the opportunity to see first-hand the sustainable developments that producers are implementing in the region. “People will get to see what growers in Levin have been doing to help improve water quality in our area and what other plans are in the pipe line”, says Emma.
Looking to the future
Forty years young, Woodhaven continues to look toward the future.
Its upcoming goals and aspirations include: “growing our core business, investing in mechanisation where possible – developing key people – complete all our environmental best practise projects – and to keep on producing great healthy, tasty vegetables to help feed our nation”, says Emma.
At this year's Taste Trail.
An iconic local business, Woodhaven is an essential stop on the Horowhenua Taste Trail. On the day, Participants will be treated to pack house tours, tractor rides and vegetable tastings. You can also watch fast paced cooking competitions.
Or relax in Café Royale’s pop-up café and garden bar. Well-known amongst Palmerston North foodies, Cafe Royale’s philosophy is fresh and local. Located at the back of the Square Edge, they make everything from scratch to ensure healthy and delicious fare. Cafe Royale is known for their vegetarian and vegan offering, and know how to innovate with vegetables in the kitchen, so partnering with Woodhaven Gardens is very fitting.
Trio showcasing Woodhaven’s vegetables: macerated kale and cabbage in a herb dressing, combined with iceberg lettuce, slivered carrot, with radish on the side; spinach pastry with fennel and lemon cream cheese and topped with sliced roast carrot; spinach, leek and brie arancini – Over 520 have been pre sold a limited number will be available on the day for purchase.
Antony Young, Chairperson of the Horowhenua Taste Trail, sees the Horowhenua through a unique set of eyes. He has experienced the excitement of big city living in London, Hong Kong, and New York. However, it is the Horowhenua that he now calls home. Antony is a firm believer that the Horowhenua is an enviable place to live in its own right.
“One thing I’ve really appreciated coming to the area is, the people are no nonsense and no pretence. I think that counts for a lot”, he says.
Originally from Wellington, Antony spent 20 years overseas. He joined advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi and worked in media and communications planning, before deciding to return to New Zealand in 2016. He and his family now own a blueberry farm in Levin, Noho Farms.
Antony’s experiences provide a perspective on the Horowhenua that is uplifting and aspirational. His skill set is also a welcome addition to the Horowhenua Taste Trail team.
Antony’s journey to the Taste Trail
As some Taste Trail fans will know, the inaugural Taste Trail event began in 2016. Planning for the first Taste Trail was already underway when Antony moved to the Horowhenua. However, Antony came on board in 2017 with the goal of assisting in ensuring the Taste Trail was attractive and sustainable after a successful first year.
The Taste Trail is unique because the public can go onsite and experience where their food is produced. It also promotes transparency in the industry because producers are opening their doors and showing the real food production process.
“We’re really committed to making it somewhere where people can go on to the packing sheds and properties to see for themselves what it is like. Bringing someone inside a chicken processing plant is pretty gutsy stuff!” Antony says.
As Chairperson of the Horowhenua Taste Trail, Antony’s official role is to chair the Horowhenua Taste Trail Board (a not-for-profit comprised of four producer representatives and Antony as Independent Chair). The Board meets regularly throughout the year to define and execute the strategy behind the Taste Trail event.
However, Antony sums up his role as part cheerleader and part advisor.
“Most of the credit goes to the women on the organising committee who are not just executing it, but it’s their ideas and real desire to make something great happen. The producers have a big role to play without them we simply do not have an event, and they genuinely want to promote the district before they promote their businesses with this venture. Then we have hundreds of volunteers and employees of the producers who give up their personal time. And we’ve got our sponsors who just want us to succeed” he says.
“So if anything, my role is the chief thank you officer. Because we owe it to all those involved to make it a success. It’s something pretty special and something that has some real momentum”, he says.
A celebration of regional food production
The Horowhenua is an important food producing district of New Zealand. “Food production and manufacturing contributed $136.5 million towards our GDP in 2017, representing some 16% of our total economy”, says Shanon Grainger, Economic Development Manager at the Horowhenua District Council.
“Trail producers collectively employ over 730 local staff, in doing so providing incomes and affording choice and opportunity to many families across our great region”, he says.
The Taste Trail promotes and generates interest in the region as a food producer, both by people participating in the event, and the associated media coverage. It allows producers who do not sell to the public, such as Woodhaven Gardens, to open their doors and show the public what they do.
It’s also an opportunity for producers to launch new products, and Taste Trail participants to try them.
“We want the Horowhenua to mean something: to stand for good value, quality, freshness and locally produced. And this is helping to do that,” Antony says.
See the Horowhenua from a different perspective
Antony’s passion for the Horowhenua as a great place to live and work is on display whenever he talks about the region.
“In the Horowhenua, we’re not very good at blowing our own trumpet. This is an opportunity to put some of that out there. And I think that’s largely why I’m involved. Just seeing the cafes creating a Horowhenua Taste Trail Dish and showcasing some of our ingredients. That’s about pride. We want to use the Taste Trail as a showcase for some of the good things that are happening in the area”, he says.
So come along and join Antony on Saturday, 24 November 2018 at the Taste Trail. See the Horowhenua with a fresh set of eyes and experience some of the new offerings this year, including:
Tickets are selling fast and are available at http://www.tastetrail.co.nz/
Going gluten free – how an innovative bakery is bucking the assumption of what makes a good loaf of bread
Traditionally, a gluten free diet has been adhered to for medical reasons such as an individual being diagnosed with coeliac disease, or a non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. However, new low carbohydrate diets are changing the landscape of who is choosing to eat gluten free products.
Amanda Longfield, a contributor at www.healthyfood.co.nz, describes two popular low carbohydrate diets. “Paleo is a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet that eliminates grains, legumes and dairy foods from your meals”. The ketogenic (keto) diet “aims to get your body to use ketones from stored fat as its preferred fuel source, instead of glucose from carbs,” Amanda says. There are pros and cons to each of these diets, which Amanda outlines here.
Rebecca Rolls is the owner of Thoroughbread Foods, a Horowhenua bakery that specialises in making gluten free bread products. Over the past few years, Rebecca has seen a rise in individuals looking for paleo and keto friendly bread. In response to demand, Rebecca has developed four paleo loaves, with a new fruit loaf due out very soon.
Alongside those seeking gluten free products as part of a specific dietary requirement, Rebecca says that approximately 30% of her customers eat gluten. These customers have usually heard about Thoroughbread by word of mouth, or family. They tried the bread, loved it and keep coming back for more.
The challenge of creating healthy gluten free products
Gluten is the main storage protein of wheat, rye, barley and oats. Dietitian Anna Richards states that “gluten gives a sponginess and tenderness to baked products” (www.healthyfood.co.nz). This is due to the important role that gluten plays during the baking process.
Anna says that some gluten free products contain additional fat, sugar and sodium to compensate for the flavour and tenderness that gluten provides.
Rebecca experienced first-hand the difficulties of baking gluten free bread, when devising the recipe for her first linseed and sesame loaf 14 years ago. “To me, because I was used to making wheat bread that was nice and rounded on top, I wasn’t happy with these gluten free loaves that were sunken in the middle. I couldn’t work out how to get what gluten gave. I thought it was all down to the gluten you see. But over time, it was the mistakes that made think, “Ah, maybe…’” Rebecca says. Out of those mistakes and ongoing experimentation, the Thoroughbread products were developed.
When you look through Thoroughbread’s product list, you can see that natural ingredients are used, without the need for additional fat, sugar or sodium. Thoroughbread also grinds its own flours. “For me, I love the thought of starting from scratch as much as possible. That’s why I like to freshly grind the flours as much as we can,” Rebecca says.
These hearty and natural ingredients lend themselves to healthy, great tasting bread.
Thoroughbread products appeal to a wide market
Thoroughbread has developed gluten free bread that can taste better than traditional wheat products. The proof is in Thoroughbread’s Paleo Seed loaf. Bursting with linseed, sunflower, chia, poppy and sesame seeds, and freshly ground flours it won gold in the innovation section at the Baking Industry Association of New Zealand’s Bakery of the Year Awards 2018. The loaf went head to head against gluten based products. Rebecca says that one judge told her it was the best thing he had tasted throughout the whole competition.
Furthermore Thoroughbread's Paleo Seed and Paleo Rustic was the Fresh Winner in the 2018 Inspire and New Zealand Artisan Awards.
The cornerstones of Thoroughbread’s success includes passion, patience and partnership. Thoroughbread introduced its first gluten free loaf in 2004, as a start-up business in a 24sqm space. Thoroughbread now works out of a 200sqm bakery in Levin, with a team of 13 staff. Its products are used in approximately 40 cafes and restaurants, and sold in 40 retail shops throughout New Zealand.
Rebecca’s passion remains just as strong all these years later. “I love doing something the very best that I can and using my skills to make a bread that fulfils someone dietary need. I’m not quick with developing a new product. I wait until I get to that point that gets me really excited,” she says. Any new product must meet her high expectations of moisture content, taste and texture.
Rebecca’s relationship with her customers is at the heart of Thoroughbread’s business model. Thoroughbread’s range of products exists due to requests from its customer base. It started with one gluten free loaf. After ongoing conversations between Rebecca and her customers, Thoroughbread has continued to develop new gluten free, yeast free, egg free and grain free bread products.
The future is exciting for Thoroughbread with further products on the way - Rebecca is currently developing a recipe for a low carbohydrate loaf. She also intends to enter a range of products in the 2019 Bakery of the Year Awards.
Thoroughbread will be revealing a new loaf of bread at the Horowhenua Taste Trail!
Participants at the Horowhenua Taste Trail will be the first to try Thoroughbread’s newest product - the Paleo Fruit loaf.
For the Taste Trail, Thoroughbread will be co-locating onsite at Genoese Foods, 148 CD Farm Road, Ohau. At the stall you can expect:
· Samples of Thoroughbread products, including the paleo fruit loaf
· A range of products for sale
· An opportunity to chat with Rebecca and her team about their gluten free products
· Details of the outlets across the country that stock Thoroughbread products.
If you can’t wait until the Taste Trail, you can purchase Thoroughbread products locally at:
· Paraparaumu Beach Market, Saturdays between 8.45am and 12pm
· Te Papa Wellington market, Sundays between 8am and 1.30pm
· Thoroughbread Bakery (25 Totara Street, Levin ) in Levin, Fridays between 5pm and 9pm
Snack on a series of stories that gives you a little bit more information about the special people and businesses on the Taste Trail