Growing nature's way

GOOD HEALTH FROM FOOD: Core group members include, from left, Gottfried, Wiga, Susan, Hans, Nadine, Louisa, Yoshi, Fluer, Annemieke and Niko the dog.
GOOD HEALTH FROM FOOD: Core group members include, from left, Gottfried, Wiga, Susan, Hans, Nadine, Louisa, Yoshi, Fluer, Annemieke and Niko the dog.

The garden he grows has grown a community and a healthy view of wellbeing.

Hans Ulrich has been gardening organically since his childhood in a small village in Switzerland where his family used only well-rotted stable manure.

Hans continued growing that way when he immigrated to New Zealand in the 1950s.

He originally grew organic vegetables on Cottle Hill in Kerikeri, and he had regular customers who would drive out twice a week to buy his vegetables, free of any chemicals.

"The soil was a challenge," Hans says, and in 1999 he moved to Mission Rd, helping to build his own home using local timbers.

Hans used to milk a house cow and still runs chickens and bees, though recently his hives have been decimated - he suspects varroa mite.

When he first moved in, his neighbour Susan Caruso approached Hans and a group of interested people and floated the idea of a community garden.

The land was ideal - it had been growing organic citrus. Homeland Community Garden was started and continues today.

Some members have been with the garden from early on and the members "are like family" Hans says.

"The garden group helps me as much as they help the garden" he says.

At 85 Hans lives and breathes good health and is recognised as a "guru" by some in Homeland Community Garden.

"These people could all be my children," he says.

It is clear a strong bond exists between members. If anyone is sick their vegetable box is packed and delivered to them.

Hans works alongside the 17-member group twice a week, year-round. The core group consists of 13 members, with the others relieving or working every second week.

The acre of gardens is bursting with organic fruit and vegetables and reflects the commitment of a dedicated group, some of whom have been there since the early days.

They work together on the land twice a week to provide each other with nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables.

Any surplus is sold to offset costs.

Each member has certain tasks they share with another.

While some take care of the potting shed, others make the seed-raising mix and turn the compost , and others take care of the poly tunnel. Seed raising dates and varieties are all recorded and after years in operation the group know what works and the gardens provide abundantly.

At the end of each work session in the garden the vegetables are harvested and each member takes their share.

The garden is run with no chemicals or artificial fertilisers, Hans says, "and everyone here knows they taste better that way, organic and garden fresh is certainly better".

And as for genetically modified food "there is no need for it", Hans says.

"Food certainly is our medicine - of course what you eat is important".

Hans has no time for the stresses of the 21st century.

"Living the way I do now certainly helps with my health," he says.

"Children need to get outside and away from computers, to connect with the outside and reality."

Hans says mental health and wellbeing depend on keeping active.

"It's important to move, I don't go to the gym, it's too artificial. I used to go on long walks and still go fishing by myself."

The community garden rewards its caretakers well with produce from bananas to macadamia nuts and Hans' wish for the future is that the garden continues.

"Who knows when my time is up, but both I and my four children have agreed the garden should go on.

"It might mean someone living in the house as sometimes I have to do extra jobs that the members don't always think of," Hans says.

The group is a mixture of nationalities - "Kiwis with foreign accents" - but there are several New Zealand-born members among them.

What unites them all and makes the garden work is a deep respect for one another and the land.