In Marlborough's endless sea of grapes, Bob and Jennie Crum's organic Renwick orchard offers something of a life-raft.
With 20 varieties of plums, seven of blueberries, a feijoa block and newly planted kiwifruit vines, Windsong Orchard's diversity is perfectly pitched to meet the Marlborough Farmers' Market season.
"We've tried to get the widest range of production for the longest time over the season, set up basically for the Farmers' Market," says Ms Crum.
The development of the orchard has been closely linked to the local producer market, established 10 years ago, with strong support from the Crums.
Having seen similar markets thrive in Mr Crum's home state of California, the couple knew the format – allowing only local produce sold by the grower – could be a lifeline for smaller producers, unable to survive supermarket prices.
Now both orchard and market are entered in the Marlborough Environment Awards, marking a coming of age for each.
Chris Fortune, who is chairman of Farmers' Market New Zealand and spearheads the Marlborough market's entry in the innovation category of the awards, says its success has been largely thanks to the Crums' vision and insight.
"If we had more food producers like that, New Zealand would be the clean and green land that we so often call ourselves."
He said the Farmers' Market was proud to be recognised in the awards and excited that a number of its food producers were entered. "It does show the growing diversity of our region."
Ms Crum wants to see a lot more of that diversity in Marlborough, where the grapes have seen many orchards ripped out.
"It's better for the land, it's better for the people, it's better for the growers. We would really like Marlborough to be able to feed itself," she says.
"By having the Farmers' Market and encouraging it there, we're trying to have food put back into little corners."
In Windsong's 2.5ha, diversity spreads their risk. "If the weather is bad at one time, you don't lose your whole income. I would hate to be reliant on one crop."
By supplying the Farmers' Market, the Crums get double the money they would selling to a supermarket.
"And with all the different varieties, it means not all the picking is at once," she says, "It means Bob and I can pick all the plums every two days so they are always as ripe as they can be."
On Sunday mornings at the Farmers' Market, she knows which plums suit which people, depending on their taste and ripeness. "That really is our point of difference, I think."
After 10 years "banging on" about the importance of buying local, they feel the cause is beginning to gain traction, as general consumers start looking for more local produce and the Farmers' Market grows a dedicated following.
For Mr Crum, growing a diverse range of organic food for local markets addresses a myriad of problems, "from global warming and carbon sequestration to obesity and more nutritious food. It's reducing food miles, creating more diversity, creating more jobs".
When the couple moved to Marlborough 25 years ago, they were chasing ski seasons, and ran the Rainbow ski-field for a few winters, while developing their first Renwick block in summers, planting it in kiwifruit. Being organic was a "no brainer" for the young family, says Ms Crum.
"There's only a short period of time we've been using agrichemicals, and as they say, my grandmother used to call organic food, food."
Pick-your-own visits to a nearby blueberry farm intrigued Mr Crum, who soon began taking his tape measure and notes while his kids picked. Ten years ago, when they moved to their current Inkerman S orchard, he was ready to plant. He says that with so many Marlborough vineyards now becoming organic, it makes sense for the rest to follow.
"Why not be the organic wine province of Marlborough? It's not so fringy now. They've got it down. They know how to do it."
The Crums grow varieties that are less prone to disease and use companion planting, like parsnips down rows of plums to reduce aphids.
Woofers provide labour and get daily lessons in organics, as well as a hearty dose of the Crum's Green politics, a word as important to them as diversity, local and organics.
Tucked away in the Renwick haven, they've found an existence that allows them to stay true to all.
"I'm really glad we came to Marlborough. I love it here," says Ms Crum.
Her spouse is a little more parochial: "Renwick rocks. We call Blenheim the gateway to Renwick."
There are 32 entrants in the 2010/2011 Marlborough Environment Awards, which are run every two years by the Marlborough District Council to encourage sound environmental management that is also good for business. Winners will be announced at a presentation dinner on May 6.
This is the first in a series of articles on Environment Award contenders.
- The Marlborough Express
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