Permaculture: How to grow dollars in your garden ?

Kiwi's Table
Jan 13 · 8 min read

Who ? Yotam & Niva Kay, owners of Pakaraka Farm. An anecdote: they cook with gaz producted from… cow manure and vegetable scraps!
Why did we meet them ? They have a commercial garden based on permaculture principles and they offer workshops to professionals & individuals. Their farm is also where they live with their girls.
When ? January 2019.

What are you doing here at Pakaraka Farm ?

We have a commercial garden and we are developing a food forest in this area. We arrived here 4 years ago. Our neighbours are our partners and they started building this place 25 years ago. It was certified organic since the beginning. In the commercial garden, we grow about 8 tonnes of food in the season. We sell at a market 7 months a year and we provide restaurants such as Tom at Orphan’s Kitchen and organic shops all year long. We sell everything we grow.

What kind of crops are you growing ?

Right now [the end of winter], the garden is still sleeping but we have salads, microgreens, and edible flowers. In summer, we have a lot of different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Every year, we increase our production by 10% using the same space. We have 5 crops a year in some of the beds so it’s a bigger turnover than the traditional gardens. Some crops are easier to grow than others for sure! For example, strawberries are unpredictable while cucumbers are reliable.

Do you want to expand?

We already own all this property with our partners. But we want to keep the garden close to us and quite small. Because we also have work to do with the cows, sheep, chickens, the chestnuts, the olives, the hives… It would be too much. We still buy some things but most of what we consume is from the farm. We also bought a kit to make gas from cow manure and vegetable scraps, so you can have cooking gas 3 hours a day!

How do you take care of your soil ?

We’ve got really good soil and amazing water that we collect from the mountains. We make 5 tonnes of compost a season. We are putting approximately 1000 barrels of compost in the garden a year. We don’t want to take more than we give to the soil. We don’t turn the soil, we don’t have tractors so we just do very gentle work.

Which main principle of permaculture design do you use in the garden?

Permaculture is not about one main principle. The whole point is to grow everything all together. Our enterprise is based on permaculture. We do things in small steps. We do one thing, we look a lot at it, how it behaves, we do it again. One thing we do for example is that we grow produce on the sides of each seed row, not only in the deepest part of the row.

Ethics is the essence of what we are doing. Care for the earth, care for the people. We try to give a lot to the earth. Not only the compost but we run soil test to give the plants the right minerals so plants are happy. The food that we grow is very rich in nutrients. It’s not like hydroponic lettuce that has nothing or very little in it. The best way to understand our philosophy is to eat one of our produce. When you eat one of our lettuces, you absorb our whole philosophy.

In the movie “Living the change”, they make the case that buying is a vote. Is it what you are doing?

It is not just with your dollars. Every decision you make has an impact. If you decide you are committed to doing things ethically, it is very hard not to. We buy second hand clothing or fair trade clothes. The cotton industry has 1.2 millions children enforced labour. Everytime you buy something made of cotton there is at least 6 children who worked on this item from the seeding to harvesting. It is the first industry for child labour and 50% of pesticides in the world. You can make conscious decisions everywhere.

So how do you run your business ethically ?

It’s impossible to compete with almost free labour and absolutely no effort for building the soil. For example in France a lot of fruits and vegetables come from the south of Spain. People who work there are modern slaves and the whole area is a big plastic desert. So the price of food is very cheap. But when something is cheap, there is someone else who pays the price. On the other hand, you can not pay a cucumber $10 a piece.

We think that the price of food is not really reflecting the true cost of food production. Since the end of WWII, a lot of machines and chemicals are used in the agriculture. The price and quality of food went down. The whole price now is outsourced. A difficult part is that we really try to be close to people by getting just a little bit above the normal price but not like double or triple. We could sell produce for much higher than what we do but we want to be fair. It also means not too cheap to be viable.

In another interview, Rory told us that a very small percentage of new zealanders income is used for food. Did you notice the same thing?

It is global. If you look 100 or 200 years ago, food was 50% of the salary in many places. Now, it is between 10 and 20% and 50% goes to housing. It is ridiculous. Just to have a roof above your head. 200 years ago a house was not a big deal, you just built it.

However we can not change everything in the world but we can show a good example of food production which is a huge part of climate change and slavery. Number one New Zealand carbon footprint (50%) is related to food. Travel is only 5%.* Your day to day food relationship is more important than where you go for holidays.

Do kiwis care where their food comes from?

People go to farmers market and everybody has social media. There are so many ways you can find out where your food comes from. Every produce that is not organic should be labelled as “contains herbicides and pesticides “. But it is not going to happen.

We think people are totally ready to consume more organically. Organic gardens are the largest growing horticultural centers and a study showed recently that 50% of New Zealanders buy at least one organic item per week.

Are there a lot of other organic producers at the markets ?

Yes but there is space for thousands more organic growers in New Zealand. It is all about choosing the right location, the right product, the right scale. Our garden is very small so we have to be very specific about what we grow. There is only one grower of organic potatoes sold in supermarkets here. There could be 10 more organic potato farms. We grew 1000 kilos of fresh carrots last year. We sold it all at the same price than regular carrots in supermarkets.

Are you sharing what you’re doing here ?

Yes, we do a lot of gardening workshops (beginners, advanced, market gardening…). We love teaching. Last year all of our workshops were full. In the multiple days workshops, people from the south island or even Australia are coming because you don’t often have commercial gardens showing individuals how to grow food. They can copy a lot of what we are doing here into their home garden and be self sufficient in vegetables. In one square meter, spending an hour a day, a medium skilled gardener can get over 100 dollars of vegetables a year.

We also have 3 months educational programs for adults who want to start their farm. We show them everything: the calculations, the suppliers we work with, all of it. We do not care about competitors, they even come. We work only with adults because they’re passionate and we have a bigger impact on them.

You know so much. Would you share your knowledge in other ways than workshops?

A lot of people asked for online courses. We are looking at doing online gardening workshops this year or the next one. It will take a lot of energy. It is a lot of experience (14 years) to share slowly.

Do you want to raise awareness with your farm to encourage people to do the same thing?

I would not say we encourage. If you want to do the same thing you have to know what you are getting into. This is not easy! We just show people how to do it correctly.

In 2 months, the crew from “Happens Film” are coming here and they are going to film the farm for a new movie they are making. It’s a kind of series on permaculture farms.

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