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.
Snack on a series of stories that gives you a little bit more information about the special people and businesses on the Taste Trail