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A Pleasure Shared

This episode screened July 7, 2007.

'A Pleasure Shared'

In the early 1990s John Stansfield roped in a bunch of friends to buy 50 hectares of hilly gorse-covered land on Waiheke Island. 

He wanted to try alternative approaches to land ownership and dreamed of making a living through sustainable organic farming.  Most of all he thought it would be a fun way to enjoy rural life.

Fifteen years on, most of the seven partners are still involved in other occupations - but the farm has become an integral part of their lives and they look forward to a day when the vineyard they've developed will be an economic venture.  Their vision is to open a rustic restaurant featuring their organic wines and other garden produce.

At an original total cost of $180,000, Orapiu Grove Farm was something the partners could afford to buy without incurring big debt.  As a result, they were free to experiment.

They're a brainy bunch.  Barry Gribben and Rebecca Potts are medical doctors.  Steve Poletti has two doctorates - in astrophysics and economics.  John Stansfield and Alex Muir have a collection of masters degrees and Derek Hayward has a corporate background.  The seventh partner, Steve's brother Nick, lives overseas but visits when he can.

With the help of volunteers, friends and family the partners cleared weeds and planted trees including hundreds of  totara, returning two-thirds of the property back to native bush.  They also made their own quarry and built roads.

Each partner has a house on the farm - they all use the sun to heat water and some have solar and wind-driven electricity as well.

The main commercial crop is grapes.  The vineyard boasts award-winning organic wines under the name of Awaroa.  The syrah is so popular that it's sold out even before it's bottled. 

A small planting of olive trees provides them with their own olive oil and a lavender garden makes enough money to support one couple.  Derek's life partner, Eleanor Bauarschi, sells pure organic lavender oil and makes a range of other lavender products. 

Everything on the property is pruned, thinned and picked by hand and at harvest time the farm partners often advertise in the local paper for volunteers.  It's not because their crops are so large that they need extra labour - but they want to encourage a wide group of people to share their enjoyment of the land. 

But organic farming always creates challenges. Last season they spent long hours removing slugs and snails from the vines one by one at night by torchlight.  The native bush is home to boars which dig up the ground around the grapes and wild peacocks that are equally destructive - but worst of all are the rabbits that eat new shoots on the vines.  

This season's grape yield was seriously reduced by bad weather, but the owners of Orapiu Grove Farm refuse to be downcast.  They're looking forward to the vintage and laugh off their troubles by saying that they 'specialise in low yields'.