Home and Garden
Growing food at home is an age-old tradition that is being revived as family budgets tighten.
Grassroots savings are encouraged by Blenheim man John Soper.
He propagates a wide range of vegetables and herbs and sells them at the Marlborough Farmers' Market and three other outlets.
It is a part-time operation but a seven-day-a-week one at this time of the year, he says.
He can be found at the nursery space he has created in a friend's paddock, busily pricking out small seedlings to put into new containers.
They were germinated in a large hothouse John has set up in the paddock.
Once large enough to thin and transplant, each is moved outside in new, carefully-labelled containers and hardened up for sale at the market.
As suburban properties get smaller and people's time commitments change, the plants are likely to spend their whole lives in pots rather than be put into traditional gardens, John says.
He grew up in Marlborough and spent the first part of his working life in the motor industry.
Time spent in Australia, Thailand and Vietnam introduced him to different styles of food and Asian cuisine became a favourite.
When he returned to New Zealand, John looked in vain for the vegetables he had enjoyed overseas so he started growing his own.
These days, pak choi and kohlrabi greens are no longer unique and the once commonly-grown brassica plants like cauliflower and cabbage are largely ignored on the sales table.
John attributes the shift in tastes to New Zealand's increasingly multicultural population and the interest in television cooking shows.
The shows urge new viewers to experiment with unfamiliar ingredients and prepare previously unknown types of meals for their families.
John's involvement with the Farmers' Market started while working with vegetable grower David Robinson. Together they started expanding the variety of vegetable and herb plants being sold at the market.
David has since moved to Auckland and John is continuing to expand the plant lines.
He leads the way into the hothouse and points to 25 varieties of lettuces, 12 types of heirloom or hybrid tomatoes, six sorts of zucchini, five or six types of cucumber and three kinds of spinach.
He doesn't claim to be an expert horticulturist but he happily swaps stories with customers about good ways to grow plants, effective pest controls and favourite cooking tips.
John has to supplement his plant-growing income with a couple of part-time jobs and admits his annual take-home pay is considerably less than what he earned in the motor industry. The rewards are greater, though.
"I like seeing things grow. I get pleasure out of people getting a product they haven't seen before and they can take home . . . and it's a living thing!"
- The Marlborough Express