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Dominique Schacherer tells the story behind three young farmers who turned two small organic farms into one big one called the Spring Collective, after meeting each other at local farmers’ markets.
We just started on an acre, just doing a small amount of vegetables.
I had always been interested in self-sufficiency. I did some WWOOFing (volunteering on an organic farm) in the North Island and that got me started. My partner, Logan Kerr, was planning on being a chef, but after he was asked to grow some heirloom vegetables by his work, he gave up on that idea and got into growing.
A few years later we met Penny Platt. She had started her own farm, too, and we met because we were both selling at the farmers’ markets. She approached us saying, ‘Would you guys consider working together?’
We were all working seven days a week and working extremely long hours. We thought if we teamed up we could share the load and the assets we had.
None of us come from farming families, so we’ve all started our farms quite slowly. Setting something up like that takes a lot of structures and equipment and that all takes a little while to build up.
Finding land to lease has always been really difficult for us. You’d be at a place for three years, your lease would run out and then you have to move to another farm. Penny’s parents had purchased some land and gave us a long-term lease. We decided to join up and start the Spring Collective on this 20-hectare property.
After the first year, we started leasing the neighbour’s property, so now we have 21ha. And, including us, there are 16 employees working the farm (previously Logan and I only had a part-time employee).
We arrive at 7.15am in Brookside, just south of Christchurch and have a team meeting with the crew. We’ll do a few exercises to loosen up and bring the team together.
We send out the harvest team. Often, if it is a big day, I’ll go out and help them. Other days I’ll go and look after my crops.
The three of us managers all have crops that we look after and grow. I have kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuces, celeriac and celery.
Other days, I’ll be heading into the office to do accounts.
The crew finish at 4pm and we try to stick to that because it is hard work on the body. And it takes about 40 minutes to drive home – many of us live in Christchurch.
Lockdown turned our whole business on its head – one of our main outlets was the farmers’ markets. So, a lot of our revenue was cut off. We’ve always done vege boxes – a little side thing that we just did for fun really, but with the restrictions, our market customers still wanted our veges, so vege boxes took off. It’s been crazy and has been our lifesaver.
One of the best parts of this job for me is that satisfaction of growing crops. Seeing the whole process, right from seed, the growth stages, and at the end the appreciation from our customers. Being outside on a sunny autumn day, harvesting crops and feeling the stillness in the air is something special. I love that I am doing something that I know is really beneficial for the earth and for people.
Support Dominique at springcollective.co.nz