Named after its location in Shaggery Road, just off West Bank Road in the Motueka Valley, Little Shaggery Farm is a delightful 60 acre Bio-Gro certified organic farm with a collection of fruit-bearing plants including an orchard, a berry garden a small vineyard, vegetable gardens and woodlots, it’s also where Luke Marsden and Rozmeri Leathham turn some of the produce they grow into products like apple cider vinegar and dried fruits.
As well as being BioGro organic certified the processing facility on their property is approved by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority so you can have faith that the quality organic produce is processed and packed to the highest standards before being delivered straight from the orchard to you and me.
I met with Rozmeri a couple of weeks ago after she had packed up their stall at the Farmers Market to find out a bit more about them and the large range of fruit they grow on the orchard. Included in the range of trees are older, heritage varieties such as apple varieties Allied Gravenstein, Jamba, Gouldberg, Stripy Gravenstein, Discovery and the Flower of Kent apple that is reputedly the same variety of apple that fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head.
With approximately 150 varieties of apples, 20 varieties of plums, 60 varieties of pear, 15 varieties of nashi, five varieties of lemons, grapefruit and blueberries as well as processed fruit wraps you will find a veritable treasure trove of heritage horticulture at Little Shaggery Farm.
Rozmeri told me there used to be about 700 varieties but the previous owner, who also established the property, restructured it retaining only those that were most disease resistant and also with the best health benefits, “He trialled things to work out what was growing best in the micro-environment we have.”
Since purchasing the property from Dieter Probst who established and ran the property as a bio-dynamic enterprise for 30 years, Rozmeri says “We have just been watching and managing the orchard while we work out what direction we wanted to take based on what we could do on the property, we need to understand the land to work out what we can change and create on the property.”
The couple bring some pretty impressive credentials and experience to this organic enterprise; Luke is originally from Invercargill and Rozmeri is from England. Rozmeri studied adventure tourism management at University in Birmingham, went travelling, ended up in Queenstown where she met Luke who had been studying for an organic farming diploma in Western Australia.
“We travelled the world for a few years then settled in Perth, but I always wanted to come back to New Zealand and have our children grow up here, we wanted to have great nutritious food for them and we had dreamed of having our own organic farm at some stage. We had been looking for a property for a while but Invercargill was too cold for me and we wanted to stay in the South Island.
“We were looking for something established and organic but this a lot bigger than what we had been looking for, however as soon as we saw it we looked at each other and said this is our dream so we put everything we had into buying it.
“There was already a certified commercial kitchen on the property to make the fruit wraps so that is something else that appealed to us, it isn’t just growing and selling fruit.”
As well as making fruit leather from fruit they grow, cook and dehydrate they also flavour the wraps with other fruits they grow. “The fruit leather has an apple or pear base and flavoured with fruit we grow, such as blackberries, everything we make comes from the orchard.”
As with any organic operation soil health, plant and insect bio-diversity are crucial so the couple makes their own compost on site, “we control everything so it’s easier to maintain organic certification.
“While we have BioGro Organic certification we tend to follow more biodynamic principles, care of the orchard is something we take really personally. We don’t use some things we are allowed to use on the land under the BioGro regime because we want to encourage a natural environment for bees and other organisms that enhance the soil to get healthier plants and better fruit.”
Maintaining BioGro organic certification is expensive “but we want our customers to know we are accountable when it comes to our organic certification claims, we are a real permaculture orchard and certification is about credibility in the marketplace. Our customers need to have faith in what we are selling and this is one way we can give them certainty.”
As well as producing fruit leather at Little Shaggery Farm Luke and Rozmeri make apple cider vinegar. “It’s made in an old, traditional style, we crush and press the heritage apples, ferment the cider, then age it in oak barrels that have been inoculated with a mother vinegar starter and it slowly turns into vinegar.
“This takes at least 9 months and once it’s vinegar we put it into 500 litre barriques until we bottle it which is usually about three to six months later. We think you get to taste the real fruit when it’s made this way and even though there’s no alcohol left the vinegar is quite rich and intense without being too sharp.”
Little Shagggery Farm’s main vinegar is apple but they make a pear cider vinegar and Rozmeri says it is fantastic to use in salad dressings while their whole family has tablespoon every morning as part of their healthy lifestyle.
As well as selling their delicious produce and products at the Saturday and Nelson Farmers Market they have a roadside stall at the bottom of the road and you can even stay in the delightful cottage on the property if you want to escape to a farm for a day or two. www.littleshaggeryfarm.co.nz
Published in the Nelson Mail 10.02.2021