Living the good life -

WINTER WONDERLAND: Burton Worth and daughter Sacha, 2, picking black kale (cavolo nero) from their organic garden. Excess produce goes to the farmers' markets.

Fancy growing your own vegetables and raising chooks? One Cambridge family talks about living sustainably and eating off the land.

A fantail flits through the air as Burton and Alison Worth and daughter Sacha, 2, harvest vegetables from their garden.

Their cow Mimi watches on, chews contentedly on cabbage leaves, and in a nearby paddock pet Berkshire pig Rosie snuffles and free-range chickens peck the ground.

The Worth family are living the sustainable dream – farm biodynamically, growing vegetables and raising cows and chickens – on a one-hectare lifestyle block at Pukerimu, near Cambridge.

"I'd say 70 per cent of what we eat every night is ours – eggs, dairy, fruit and vegetables," says Alison, a former chef who recently took over marketing the Hamilton and Cambridge farmers' markets.

Most days Alison milks cows Mimi and Millie, and Burton turns the milk into cheese and butter. There are free-range eggs from the chickens and a variety of winter veges in the garden.

The Worths relocated from Auckland 18 months ago seeking "the Good Life" and set up Locavore, selling produce at the farmers' markets.

"We want to get back to grass roots," says Alison. "We want to provide people with nutritionally dense fruit and vegetables that are not covered with lots of pesticides."

They grow "lots of unusual stuff"' for the market including cavolo nero (black kale) and kohlrabi (German turnip). They also grow and sell seedlings so people can begin their own home gardens.

British-born Alison has been a chef for more than 20 years, and came to New Zealand in 1999 while working on a super yacht, and ended up staying. She ran her own cookschool, Main Course, for six years in Auckland before selling it in 2009. Alison has worked with many of New Zealand's top food writers and chefs, including Peta Mathias and Julie Biuso.

Burton, who has a background in horticulture and a commerce degree, is interested in biodynamic farming. Although he grew up on a kiwifruit orchard at Kumeu, his farming philosophy has evolved from using sprays and chemicals to farming organically. "I have a passion for getting back to the soil and organics and creating a closed, self-sustaining farming organism."

Part of that is the dung produced from the cows and two horses, Clyde and Melanie, which goes back into the soil as fertiliser.

''One of the things we've noticed about farming organically is that all the birds and insects have come back (into the garden),'' says Alison.

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The Worths say Kiwis are part of a global movement towards more sustainable living, organic produce and knowing where their food comes from.

''People are really appreciating the importance of good food,'' says Burton. ''The biggest shift for us was when Sacha was born; we were looking at what we were feeding her and us, so with that came this lifestyle shift.''

Part of that change has involved sharing their excess produce with the public. In winter they sell only at the Cambridge Farmers' Market but in summer, when they have more produce to sell (including beans, garden peas, celery and five varieties of potatoes), they attend both Cambridge and Hamilton markets.

Two months ago Alison was appointed the new public relations and marketing manager for the markets. ''I love farmers' markets. They are full of passionate people,'' she says. ''Farmers' markets are really taking off and I'm proud to say New Zealand is one of the leading countries in the world as far as produce-only markets are concerned, with standards for trading and genuine transparency, so customers are buying direct from the producer.''

The Waikato markets are both certified as Authentic Farmers' Markets by the Farmers' Markets New Zealand Association (FMNZ).

Farmers' market rules dictate only producers, their family or employees can front the stalls.

The Hamilton and Cambridge Farmers' Markets charter dictates that 80 per cent of products sold have been caught, grown, raised or produced locally (within 100 kilometres or two hours' drive of the market). The other 20 per cent includes imported coffee roasted and packaged locally, or South Island salmon processed and smoked in the Waikato.

Held on Sunday mornings, Hamilton is the bigger market, with around 35 to 40 stalls in winter. Come summer 60 stalls are likely. Most weekends it is ''buzzing'', says Alison.

People wander past stalls with bags stuffed with apples, loaves of fresh bread and leafy greens. There are pots of honey and jam for sampling, as well as Italian handmade gnocchi, creamy Waikato cheese, Scottish oatcakes and Cornish pasties.

It's a similar busy scene at the Cambridge Farmers' Market in Victoria Square every Saturday morning; people coming to get in-season produce and handmade, artisan food.

In late September the Te Awamutu Farmers' Market will launch, pending resource consent. It will be a ''twilight market'' on Thursday afternoons.

Alison hopes the Te Awamutu market will encourage those in the surrounding region to bring their excess produce to the market or start planting spare paddocks with interesting vegetables to supply year round or in season. ''I hope Te Awamutu sees people putting their hands up to grow something at home, and to get more involved in their community.''

She believes the markets are the perfect incubator for small business; a place to start small, do weekly one-on-one market research (customers will quickly tell you what they want and what they like) and grow.

Alison also wants to get young people more involved in Waikato farmers' markets. A plan is afoot to begin a ''Young Marketers'' programme at the Cambridge Farmers' Market, where children aged from 5 to 15 can sell produce or homemade food or drink at a ''community stall''.

''The idea is there is a stall there each week and they can sell what they have grown or made or harvested, from field mushrooms to chestnuts to old fashioned lemonade,'' says Alison.

''There is heaps of opportunity. I'd like to see more people bringing their excess (produce) to market or see people plant different varieties or bring in an old heirloom variety that no one has seen before. It's about getting back to old ways, of swapping jams and making the most of the land, and celebrating that sense of community.''

- Cambridge Farmers' Market, from 8am until 12 noon every Saturday at Victoria Square, corner Alpha and Victoria Sts, Cambridge:

Hamilton Farmers' Market, from 8am until 12 noon every Sunday at the River Rd carpark, 204 River Rd, Claudelands, Hamilton:

Te Awamutu Twilight Market, from 3.30pm-6.30pm every Thursday starting September 30.

Living the good life - life-style |