A hard row to hoe: 25 years of organics with Bremdale Farms

31 October 2016

It’s our birthday on November 7th, 2016, and we’re celebrating a quarter century of years of rich relationships with our growers, suppliers, staff and customers. Some have been with us from the very start.

Back in 1991, Roger and Rose-Marie Bremner were one of the earliest suppliers to Commonsense Organics. Owners of Bremdale Farms, they live and work on an idyllic property up in Northern Hawkes Bay.

In honour of our 25th birthday, we chatted with Roger about Bremdale’s journey: the challenges, the victories and what the future of organics might look like in the next 25 years.

 

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 Bremdale Farms

 

Fertile beginnings

The Bremner property has been in the family since 1954. Rose-Marie and Roger took over the sheep and cattle farm from Roger’s parents in 1978, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that they began to think about farming organically.

Rose-Marie was keen, but it took two years to convince Roger that organics was a good niche market to get into.  And once they began, Roger found there was a lot to learn. 

“I was very green,” Roger says. “It took years to understand what I could best produce on the land we have. We started literally from scratch.”

 

Connecting with Commonsense

Jim opened the first Commonsense Organics stores in 1991, and Bremdale Farms came on board as a supplier soon afterwards.

Fast forward to the present day, and Roger and Rose-Marie supply our stores with a range of beautiful produce including potatoes, brassicas, zucchini, sweet corn, watermelon, citrus, kiwifruit and permissions. With their warm Hawkes Bay micro-climate, Bremdale is lucky enough to be one of the first farms in the country to produce the first of each seasonal crop. 

“I talk personally every week with staff,” Roger says. “We have a lovely personal relationship. You guys have wonderful people. There’s always a variety of accents.”

 

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Roger Bremdale, with purple courgette

 

A day in the life of an organic farmer

Roger’s friends often say, “Good God, I don’t know how you do it.” Due to the great variety of crops they produce, Bremdale Farms employ no permanent staff, only seasonal workers. Roger is now 67 and still does all the tractor work himself.

A work day may run from 5am to 7pm, and can include anything and everything from sales, marketing, managing staff, cultivation, planting, harvesting and a whole lot of planning.

“While I’m here there’s always work,” Roger says. "There’s no part of the year where we aren’t doing anything. If the harvesting’s done, then we’ll start pruning and setting up for the coming season.”

Roger's favourite part? Easy. "Harvesting and sending out produce," he says. "Money coming in. In our game we have many failures. When you have successes, it’s a very good feeling.”

 

Changing perspectives

Attitudes to organics have changed hugely since the early 1990s.  “Times back then were hostile,” Roger says. “Locals were indifferent to organics. They looked at me like there were rings in my nose and ears.

“There’s been a massive shift. Now I can debate with conventional farmers with confidence. Farmers are much more conscious of how they produce their food today.”

In Roger’s view, small changes are the key. “I think we should be saying to [conventional] farmers, ‘make that little step’,” Roger says. “With each little step they’re improving the situation.”

 

The future of organics in New Zealand

When asked about the future of organics, Roger isn’t sure. But he does know that organic farming is not easy. 

Roger often says to wholesalers, “You’ve only got a few of us silly grey-headed fullas left in the system, and if you don’t look after us, we’ll be gone”.

 

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Roger at the farm

Change on the way

Taking into account Roger’s age and physical ailments, the Bremners have recently made a life-changing decision: to divide their property up into 23 lifestyle blocks, a quarter or half hectare each. The idea is that Roger will be able to help the lifestyle block owners, supporting them in building soil, irrigating, growing and harvesting.  

It’s a beautiful vision of growth and community, but, after decades of farming their own land, the transition will be bittersweet for the Bremners.

“I’m rather saddened,” Roger says. And, to be honest, we are too.

 

Thanks Roger, for sharing a small part of the Bremdale Farm story with us. We are deeply appreciative for all the hard work and passion you’ve put into your work, and all the beautiful healthy produce you’ve supplied our stores and customers for the last 25 years. Ngā mihi nui.

 

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