Plant The Seeds

Home Farm is sharing their gardening knowledge and inspiring people to grow more organic food.

Jim and Brandon from Home Farm create edible gardens in the urban environs of Mount Maunganui. While they’re at it, they aim to share their gardening knowledge, inspire people to grow more organic food and to ultimately enrich the health of the community.

Fruit trees and vege plants used to be a standard feature in the humble Kiwi backyard. Now, oftentimes people’s priorities for their time and/or outdoor areas are different, meaning many people simply don’t know how to grow their own food. Enter Home Farm. The brainchild of friends Jim Annear and Brandon de Beer, the business came about when the pair discovered that they had a similar zeal for an organic, sustainable approach to gardening. Now they work as a team to come into backyards in Mount Maunganui and create lush edible gardens for people to enjoy. The pair are clear on their vision for Home Farm. “We want to encourage healthy and resilient communities — not just human communities, plant communities and soil communities too,” says Jim.

Teaming Up

Jim studied horticulture and worked at Be Organics store in the Mount, and it was there he first came across Six Toed Fox Organics (see our story about the property at ourplacemagazine.co.nz). Inspired by its fresh produce coming into the shop, he eventually ended up working on the farm for about three years. In that time, he soaked up a wealth of knowledge about regenerative farming practices. Jim felt his next move should involve sharing those learnings. “I wanted to bring that knowledge back into the Mount — to regenerate the connection between the community and the environment. ”Brandon came to gardening from a different route: he moved from South Africa, was beekeeping in Wānaka, then moved to Mount Maunganui where he began building. During this time, Brandon was developing an interest in issues like soil health and he increasingly felt the building industry was at odds with his beliefs. “The amount of waste going into landfill, lots of toxic materials — I knew as a husband and a father, I was literally taking years off my life,” he says. One day he contacted Jim to get advice. “I was trying to figure out a way to get out of the building industry, so I gave Jim a call to figure out what I should study,” says Brandon. “It was an intense phone call!” says Jim, of their 45 minute discussion. It was then they realised their shared passion and this eventually led to forming Home Farm — their edible landscaping service was kicked off.

The Vision

Essentially, Jim and Brandon come into properties and plant food — it might be modest-sized custom-made planter boxes for backyard veges; or perhaps transforming a lack-lustre lawn into a thriving food forest complete with fruit trees. Their chemical-free ethos extends to Brandon’s building of the planter boxes: “We use fresh macrocarpa, locally milled, nothing treated. “We love connecting people back to their backyards,” says Brandon. “A generation ago, we knew how to grow food in our backyard and now it seems we’ve lost that knowledge. People used to grow stuff to share, then brought it together as a community. Kids need to know where their food comes from and get their hands deep into the soil. We want to bring that education back into the home and re-establish people being part of that process.” “As well as benefitting from the healthy produce, having plants in your backyard and watching them grow is good for your mental wellbeing,” adds Jim.

Life Down Under

Whatever the scale of the project, for Jim and Brandon, it always starts at the same place — the soil. “We want to bring that vigorous new life to gardens, so we set up lasting systems that will continue to regenerate the soil. If we prioritise the soil, then we have healthy plants, healthy humans,” says Jim. “We use organic garden mix, mulch and systems that hold the water. We dig out sand and work upwards to create rich, absorbent soil.” They certainly have their work cut out for them in the sandy Mount. “We bring in a lot of soil!” Brandon laughs. Once the all-important eco system below the surface is established, they allow it to flourish. “We don’t disturb what’s under the surface — we don’t really dig, it’s just about adding more compost,” says Brandon. Free-range Gardens

You won’t find neat rows of each vegetable in a Home Farm garden. It’s all about diversity — different plants and species all supporting each other and working in harmony; what Jim refers to as “a multi-dimensional backyard”. Plants are added at different stages and are interspersed throughout the garden or planter box, so the result is a resilient mix of veges, herbs, insect-friendly flowers and perhaps fruit trees, all happily together. Home Farm employs practices such as “chopping and dropping” — so rather than yanking out seeding plants, which disturbs the soil (and also uproots the dormant weed seeds), they are cut off at the base. They are either laid down in the garden to decompose and fertilise the soil or popped in compost — the roots stays in the soil. “Once you chop the plants at the base, those roots become a part of the fertility cycle,” explains Jim. The soil health is also managed through planting. “In hot weather, you really need to protect the soil so we do lots of ground covers of leafy microgreens — like rocket and coriander. We kind of make this carpet and all the other stuff emerges out of it,” says Jim. “Like in nature — nothing is bare, nothing is exposed,” says Brandon. “It doesn’t always look photograph perfect, but when you realise what going on, it’s beautiful.”

Local Projects

Some Home Farm clients have gardening smarts but perhaps not the time, however many don’t have the experience but want to provide their family with fresh produce. Some jobs are for small spaces — you may have spotted the two lush self-watering planter boxes on castor wheels that were created to beautify Tay Street Store. Others are larger — an exciting project in Arataki saw the team dig up a lawn to establish a food forest. It consisted of 18 fruit trees, with a variety of herbs and flowers that attract beneficial insects, as well as creeping, ground-covering plants, such as melons and pumpkins. “It created a diverse food system, so when a plant grows, it has a whole supporting community around it,” says Jim. “Every plant attracts certain life.” The pair provide other services too. Harking back to his bee expertise, Brandon has installed a Flow Hive at one property. “It’s an Australian invention where you have honey on tap,” he explains. Flow Hive honey comes straight from the hive, without disturbing the bees. Brandon’s also custom-built a three-bay compost system for another client. Jim and Brandon offer a monthly subscription service so they can return to ensure everything is fed and healthy. “People want to harvest food but don’t have the time or energy to re-plant and re-seed, so that’s also part of our business,” says Brandon. They can also check on the compost, turning it over to ensure the contents are decomposing nicely.

Knowledge is Power

The pair are keen to give as much back as possible — it’s key for them to share their knowledge with clients and the wider community. “We’re not about holding knowledge for ourselves, we want to keep sight of the fact we are a community-based company and we want to connect with like-minded people,” says Brandon. “For example, we know there are lots of young people that are keen to start growing their own food.” That community spirit and drive to share their expertise shapes the bigger vision for Home Farm. “In the future we’d like to hold workshops, such as community composting, making planter boxes — taking them to areas that don’t have this knowledge,” says Brandon. For now, the guys are happy in their work. “It’s a privilege to be in someone’s backyard,” says Jim.

Jim (left) and Brandon, right where they love to be, in the garden.

Jim reads a leaf for an indication of health. This can reveal deficiencies or maybe pest damage.

Brandon with the Flow Hive, which allows people to pour honey straight from the hive without disturbing the bees.

Story by Sarah Nicholson
Photography by Jane Keam