Jen and Gus Ross own and operate Left Fields farm in Waipu. The couple once lived in Auckland as environmentally aware foodies who love to cook. Gus worked in international trade for organic produce and Jen in animal nutrition, where travelling for work meant they often felt like ships passing in the night. The couple maintained a rural lifestyle by running a flock of 100 Texel sheep across three properties in Whitford but decided to escape the big smoke for Waipu when they wanted a different pace of life on the land. The idea for Left Fields didn’t come long after the big move; a small-scale market garden.
Left Fields has a number of unique values and operating practices that make its produce extra special. The no-dig farming practice eliminates the use of heavy machinery and preserves soil integrity. Reduced compaction leads to improved soil structure and biodiversity, alongside a healthy soil biome that supports plant immunity and health. The practice also reduces weed pressures over time, as undisturbed soil means that weeds remain dormant and are not lifted to the surface, so they struggle to germinate. No machinery means farming by hand; Jen and Gus keep their hands in the soil and stay connected to the food they produce. Produce on the farm is also grown spray-free, and interplanting, crop rotation and cutting flowers allow them to grow intensively on their half an acre of land.
Day-to-day life on the farm varies based on the season. In the warmer months, Jen and Gus are up nice and early to harvest and get produce in the chiller before it gets too hot - otherwise, it wilts. Sometimes they would even harvest in the evenings with head torches on. Regardless of the time, a typical day involves irrigating, seeding, harvesting, pricking out seedlings, delivering orders and property maintenance. There is always plenty to do.
Left Field's most successful crop and popular with customers would be the ‘Rainbow Carrots,’ which are exactly what the names suggest, a delightful array of multi-coloured carrots. Their toughest crop would be Garlic, as high humidity levels in Northland are not always ideal growing conditions.
On the topic of tough growing conditions, climate change is something that has made things more ‘changeable’ and erratic for Left Fields. They just had an unseasonably warm August after one of the wettest Julys on record. They expect to see price increases as farmers all over are met with challenging growing conditions and regulations. Also, water is likely to become more regulated moving forward with it already being so precious.
Covid-19, however, bought about a different change for Jen and Gus. With each lockdown announcement, there was an increase in demand for produce. Customers became increasingly cognisant of food security and were happy to source locally where possible. Local produce markets were forced to close during restrictions, creating even more demand.
The produce from Left Feilds is sold exclusively in Bream Bay, Northland. Consumers either purchase directly from the farm or through cafe retail. The future for Jen and Gus means increasing the production of their existing market garden and expanding into a new plot on the farm. While doing so, their focus will always remain on soil fertility.
To finish, we leave with the couple’s favourite seeds to grow. Gus loves growing a crop of Candy Kumara, and Jen’s favourite cut of flowers are Lisianthus and Dahlias.
Check out Left Fields on Instagram or their website www.leftfields.co.nz.