Vegetable Tour Guide

By Elizabeth Alington

It’s full-on for Andrew Seager most of the year.

From dawn to dusk last Spring, he was busy preparing raised beds, spreading compost, goading the tractor into doing the hard-yard and sowing beans, carrots, radish, basil, and zucchini.  Somewhere along the way he managed to transplant Autumn’s fare of kohlrabi, broccoli and cauliflower seedlings.                If that’s not a week’s-worth of work, on Saturdays he’s manning a stall at the Black Barn FarmersÕ Market in Havelock North, selling the vegetables of his labour.

Andrew operates his market garden from a modest, one-hectare property that lies 20 kilometres south of Hastings near Te Hauke. He’s been there now for 16 years, although to begin with, it took a long time to find the right patch on which to put down his roots.  As a schoolboy, growing up near London, and fascinated by the idea of the Antipodes, Andrew longed to go to New Zealand to explore the mountains of the Southern Alps. By his early teens he was saving his pennies; earning pocket money tidying up “old ladies’ gardens”.

At 19 and attracted by the idea of community, he left the UK and headed down-under where he chanced upon biodynamics as a method of sustainable food production.  But it was to be some time before biodynamics would become part of his life. First, he had to return to the UK via Asia and Mt.Everest base camp.

For the next few years, Andrew explored the world. Like most biodynamic farmers, he was inclined to think “outside the square” – these farmers are not the ones responsible for messing up your favourite fishing river.

While working on biodynamic farms and gardens in England and Germany, he was able to attend lectures in economics and social development at colleges that taught such subjects out of an understanding of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy or ‘human wisdom’.

And by his mid-twenties he was successfully employed,”at the “bottom of the socioeconomic compost heap!”

In Germany at that time, gardeners were not as highly valued as they should have been, given how much society depends on them for a good feed.                                                                                    But they’re a humble lot. Knowing that social evolution begins at the grassroots, they press quietly on with their hoeing…and wait.

In Andrew’s case, he found himself tilling a series of large biodynamic gardens.  On one of these gardens a few cows were kept for their manure. When transformed with the aid of the biodynamic preparations, two cow manure becomes a magnificent and vital part of closed-system, sustainable food production.                                 By now, Andrew was behind the wheel of a delivery van. The ‘Gemusetour’ or the ‘vegetable run’ supplied shops, schools and hospitals with the highly sought-after, Demeter-certified biodynamic produce.

Once a Greek goddess of agriculture, Demeter is now an internationally recognised certification symbol for food that has been produced biodynamically (ie) sustainable in terms of triple-bottom line – people, planet and profit.  Within the wider organic movement, Demeter is acknowledged as being organic par excellence.  Andrew wore out his tyres conveying to happy customers great golden orbs of Demeter cheese, fragrant loaves of Demeter bread, masses of Demeter vegetables as well as Demeter-certified lemons and oranges trucked up from Spain. Then he took off to Capetown, South Africa to work on another biodynamic farm for two years. Again he found himself driving loads of vegetables, homemade rusks, yoghurt, fruit-leather and bunches of flowers to the local markets.                     Back in the UK, he established himself as a landscape gardener for several years before severing his natal tie with Mother England, selling the business and returning to NZ; eventually purchasing the Te Hauke property in Spring 1993.

Today he’s still transporting freshly harvested food to farmers’ markets and supplying local shops with high quality produce!  Following the obligatory conversion period, he became a certified Demeter grower as soon as his property was eligible and now maintains a commitment to Demeter because of its international reputation.

At the 2009 Organics Aotearoa NZ conference held in Hamilton in November, delegates were of the opinion that, “it’s not organic unless it’s certified.

‘With continuing growth of organics despite the global recession, there are many ‘wannabe’ organic growers out there and consumers need to be vigilant about what they’re paying for.  NZ-grown organic produce bears a stamp of approval from either Biogro, Organic Farms NZ, Asurequality or Demeter. Ensuring that produce is properly certified is in everybodyÕs interest.

His laid-back demeanour suggests long hours of toil. Yet Andrew’s is a life of contentment and a certain indefinable richness one that’s familiar to those who are lucky to be doing what they love while serving the wellbeing of others and the Earth. As he says, “Biodynamics is the best way of achieving sustainability – both for our lifestyle and for the land. I do it because I want to produce food of substance in order to produce people of substance. We are what we eat!”

1 – Anthroposophy is a path of spiritual enquiry that cultivates independent thought and scientific outlook.

2 –  The Biodynamic Preparations are a series of specially prepared flowering herbs, cow manure and ground quartz that can be used to stimulate root growth, improve photosynthesis and increase humus formation. Available from the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Assn.

Pic.E Alington

“I like direct contact with the public because I get the opportunity to explain what biodynamics is to interested folk. Andrew Seager at Black Barn Farmers’ Market.

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