"This place is a ghost town now,"
said the old man, stooping by the picnic table we'd turned
into an office. "Lived in the region all my life," he continued
"and here in Raehiti since '58. Seen it all, volcano erupting,
businesses folding, shops closing, people leaving. Everything
moved to Okahune, the Carrot Capital. We're dying here,
capital of nothing." He adjusted his baseball cap to shield
his eyes from the morning sun and wiped his chin with his
sleeve. "Sorry, had a stroke in '90, that's why I dribble
like this. Had to give up work and everything. I'm 77. Would
love to work but there's nothing going here." He paused
for a moment. "Wife still works though. 73 she is. And been
picking sprouts for 33 years… at the sprout place on the
road to Okahune. You'll see it when you pass, a bright tin
shed. You should call in and say hello. Reckon you'd be
welcome." Then, as quickly as he appeared, he turned and
plodded off, "Good luck to you and enjoy your trip."
With the interruption over, Kirstie
went back to work, reviewing emails arriving on the laptop
in front of us. "My sister says hi, there's one about renting
a recumbent, a couple of no go's about canoeing, oh, and
the results of my blood test….. says I'm a little iron deficient…
need to eat more red meat and greens. Perhaps we should
call in at the sprout farm after all."
A large refrigerated 'Turners and
Growers' truck turned up the gravel drive, throwing up clouds
of dust on its way to the farm buildings. We followed it
a safe distance behind, looking for signs of sprouts and
hoping we were in the right place. At the end of the drive
the truck was parked next to huge wooden crates outside
a shiny tin shed. The office and coffee cups on the table
inside were empty. Kirstie ventured inside the damp shed,
past idle machinery and stacks of green plastic packing
crates, "Well, there's an earthy smell… it could be sprouts."
She went further in, cautiously, until she was out of sight.
"Yes, yes," she called back excitedly, "This must be it,
there's four sprouts by the door. Hello, hello, is there
anyone there? Hellooo." A woman appeared from the direction
of the farmhouse, "Are you the sprout people?" asked Kirstie.
The lady smiled, "Yes, that's us. I'm Steph and that's my
husband Bruce." She pointed to a stocky man approaching
on a fork lift truck. Bruce and Steph are the owner managers
of Snow Country Gardens, a sprout and parsnip growing business
they bought together five years ago.
Stuart, Bruce and Steph deep
in serious sprout talk
"Being a sprout farmer wasn't exactly
a childhood dream," said Bruce grinning as he gave us the
low down on the sprout business, "but when this opportunity
came up, it was too good to turn down. We've spent five
years growing the business, investing in new machinery,
a refrigeration plant and staff training to produce sprouts
of the highest quality." With all that and the excellent
volcanic soil, you'd think they had it cracked. But the
challenge they face is a human one; convincing Kiwi's to
give sprouts a chance. As Bruce put it, "There's a whole
generation of Kiwi's my age who are sprout haters. We were
force fed sprouts the size of your fist. They packed a real
bitter punch. I loathed them and so did most of my mates.
It's a hard market to crack." But Bruce and Steph are not
quitters. From their innocuous premises just a few miles
from the Carrot Capital, they are planning their own green
revolution; their mission- to breed a whole new generation
of sprout lovers with their secret little weapon. "We've
introduced new smaller sweeter varieties and hand pick for
the highest quality. We think people will change their mind
when they taste them."
Steph opened the giant insulated
door and took us into their giant refrigerated store. Freezing
mist rushed out to reveal the same huge wooden crates we
had seen outside. But these ones were full…… of sprouts.
"Holds about 500kg, that does," she says. "Our team of ten
fill that in less than an hour. Peak season we can fill
ten a day." I did the maths, working out that they produce
about a million sprouts a month, enough to give every Kiwi
a fresh sprout each month. There's no doubting these people
are serious about their mission. Who knows this place could
be just what Raehiti needs to aid it's regeneration. That,
and a giant green concrete sprout on the highway just outside
Who needs an iron supplement
with sprouts like these?
Tour over, we stepped outside into
the warm afternoon air. Steph held out a little plastic
box, "Here, take these to try and see what you think." Kirstie
reached out and grabbed the box, "Thanks very much " she
said putting them in her bar bag. We thanked the Sprout
King and Queen for their time and headed off to the Carrot
Why is there a big carrot here
"They're good aren't they?" I said tucking
into a sprout at dinner. "Yuk. Don't like them," said Matthew
pushing his two to the side of his plate. "Spouts stupid
and filthy," said Cameron pushing his off the table. "Just
what the doctor ordered," said Kirstie collecting up Matthew's
and Cameron's, "I reckon these people might be onto something."