This article by Janet Leggett featured in the Waikato Times on august the 7th 2009.
When Judy Chrystall gives away produce from her Gordonton vegetable garden and sends her asparagus crop off to her customers, it's with satisfaction that the food she grows is high quality and free of man-made chemicals.
This spring's asparagus crop will be her first produced with full certification from OrganicFarmNZ - an organic certification system designed for small/lifestyle growers supplying their local or the New Zealand market.
"I've always had a passion for organic growing. I'm convinced that a lot of sickness is caused by chemicals in the soil and food."
She believes the motor neuron disease that killed her husband was related to exposure to chemicals in his previous occupation. When they bought the Gordonton property 20 years ago and began growing asparagus he used sprays because "he just couldn't stand to see weeds in the crop".
As an experienced organic vegetable gardener it was a logical next step following her husband's death, for her to convert the asparagus paddocks to a smaller 2 hectare organic crop.
She uses permaculture methods in her large vegetable garden and aims to eventually follow suit with the asparagus crop. If it weren't for a recurring intestinal worm problem in her flock of wiltshire sheep, which she treats with homeopathic remedies and conventional drench, they too would be eligible for organic certification.
It took five years to get the asparagus paddocks free of synthetic chemical residues to qualify for full organic certification.
"It usually takes three years but I understand why mine has been longer - I'm keen to do whatever it takes to produce organic food from this property."
In her vegetable garden the winter's kale crop is starting to turn to seed, her early spring salad greens are doing well and it's time to cover the beds with the layers of mulching material - cardboard, hay, cloth - to build up worm numbers and improve soil structure in readiness for the spring planting.
Vegetable seeds or young plants will be sown in holes in the mulch. Paving separates the beds, each no wider than an arm's length from the path so that there's no need to stand on the soil.
Likewise in the asparagus paddocks a tractor will go over the ground only once to top the grass before the appearance of the spears - usually around the end of September or whenever the soil temperature reaches about 17 degrees Celsius.
Worm farming and homemade compost keep the vegetables healthy and moist. Layers of mulch and close planting keep down weeds.
The asparagus is treated with compost tea, brewed locally to meet the exact nutrient needs of the soil in Chrystall's paddocks. It contains living organisms and has to be applied within a few hours of being made.
Weeds are the biggest problem in the asparagus crop - Chrystall plans to try grazing her sheep between the rows because they don't eat the fern.
Most of her crop goes to Auckland but she would prefer to increase her Waikato customers and sell it all locally to reduce her carbon footprint.
"I'll even deliver to workplaces if I get big enough orders."
Being on the main Gordonton to Tahuna road, she also makes quite lot of gate sales.
This weekend she and other Waikato Organic Producers Group members are hosting the national OrganicFarmNZ training weekend and annual meeting at Hamilton Gardens.
Workshops and speakers will offer members and the public opportunity to increase their knowledge of organic growing and resources, learn how to preserve soil, seed and water assets, where to obtain organic supplies from and how to keep food production free from genetic modification.
The organisation aims to make organic certification as simple and low cost as possible.
There are a few Hamilton city organic growers among its members.
Clare Jackson and Tim Newton have "under conversion" status (the step before full certification) for their 1200 square metre Hillcrest home orchard, permaculture vegetable garden and chickens.
A landscape designer and environmental best practice educator, Jackson says OFNZ membership has been a good way to improve her skills and knowledge of organic growing.
"We don't sell our produce but we benefit from the mentoring and support that OFNZ membership and certification provides.
"Because it's a Waikato group there's knowledge and experience there about local soil conditions."
She says there's increased interest among city people and lifestyle block owners in converting to organic production.
One of the weekend's workshops will be held at the Hamilton Garden's Sustainable Backyard garden and will teach the principles of permaculture.
For further information visit www.organicfarm.org.nz