Farming and Agriculture

Fifth generation celery growing business stands the test of time

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06 September 2022, NZ: Fifth-generation growers Luke and Jasmine Franklin operate a celery growing business to the northwest of Auckland. HELENA O’NEILL talks to Jasmine about their operation and the benefits of running a long-lasting family venture.

The Franklin family celery operation began on a small block of land in Mt Roskill over a century ago, before the urban sprawl spurred the family’s decision to move to the small settlement of Waimauku. Over the years they managed to acquire neighbouring land growing celery and are now producing 1500 cases each week.

Now, Franklin Farm occupies a 28-hectare property at Waimauku, northwest of Auckland. Twelve hectares are used to grow crops while the rest of the land is used for water storage and for farming sheep.

“The family has been growing celery for 116 years, but the first and second generations grew a few other things as well,” says Jasmine. “They had a few fruit and vege shops in town on the waterfront, growing a chunk of it themselves and sourcing a bit of it from the market. But mostly celery the whole time.”

During the winter months, Franklin Farm supplies celery primarily to Auckland, with a smaller volume sent to Palmerston North. By October, the growing operation and its neighbour are supplying celery to the whole country.

“We grow all year round; we pick for the market six days a week,” Jasmine says.

Jasmine and Luke live on the property with their two children Saskia (9) and Arlo (7). Luke’s parents Alan and Monique also live on the family property, with Alan working as the operation’s manager and Monique as the packhouse manager. Grandfather Graham is also on site most days doing spraying or whatever else is needed.

“Graham is our mentor and keeps an eye on us, giving us a bit of advice when needed,” Jasmine says. “We really like the lifestyle. We’re out in the fresh air, we’re not on a huge scale so it’s quite manageable and enjoyable. Our family is very supportive and we seem to get on very well. We manage to keep personal and business stuff separate.”

The Franklin family constantly look at the way they grow and how to make improvements. Prior to taking over the business, Luke and Jasmine spent several years investigating regenerative growing practices and developing strategies that focus on reducing inputs and improving soil health.

Luke says they use several different varieties of seeds, but they keep the names of those ‘in-house.’

“We’re often testing for seed companies,” Luke says.

“We’ll often plant a small amount of a few varieties to give them feedback,” Jasmine adds.

The family run a lot of trials to improve what they do. It’s a slow process as a trial can take almost a year from set-up, to cropping and rotating. And with trials you don’t get the perfect result the first time.

The couple understands that making difficult decisions is crucial to maintaining a sustainable and profitable growing operation. Jasmine says they see value in regenerative growing practices both financially and environmentally.

While regenerative farming is part of their long-term plan, Luke and Jasmine have taken steps to look at all opportunities to improve their environmental performance. The operation uses solar power to run the coolstore, packhouse and workshop and they plant multi-species cover crops in the summer months to add diversity to the soil biology and structure.

It’s been almost two-and-a-half years since Luke and Jasmine took over ownership of the farm, just as the Covid-19 pandemic ramped up across the globe.

“We bought the business off Luke’s parents and grandparents in April 2020,” Jasmine says. “The year before the family had talked about passing the business on and everyone being at a good age to help and teach us. We had everything in the works for 1 April to take over and then we had the lockdown one week beforehand.”

Father-in-law Alan offered to delay the transfer of the business, but Luke and Jasmine decided to forge ahead as planned.

“I spent a lot of my time in the early stages just policy writing and trying to keep on top of operating safely. Doing much the same thing [as before Covid], just extra safety measurements and home-schooling,” says Jasmine. “We quite liked having the kids home … we managed to between ourselves juggle it really well. We were a bit sad when they went back to school.”

With the country plunged into an unknown and unexpected series of lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions, the advice offered by MG Marketing made a huge difference in how Luke and Jasmine dealt with the unprecedented situation.

“We supply a big chunk of our produce through MG Marketing and they had a set person who was working with growers almost every day, keeping us up-to-date with what we needed to be doing in our workplace – policies, all of that,” Jasmine says. “If we didn’t have them helping us it would have been really hard. They were incredible.”

For Jasmine, who is a trained teacher, running a family horticulture business is hard to beat.

“The flexibility is just too good. I really like working with my husband every day. I know some people can’t do it, but we do it really well.”

Franklin Farm has four generations actively working for the business from Grandfather Graham in his mentoring and hands-on help, to Luke and Jasmine’s daughter helping out each weekend.

“Saskia helps in the packhouse on a Sunday,” says Jasmine. “Both she and Arlo are there with us often after school or on the weekends and they both seem to really enjoy it. Arlo reckons he’s going to carry it on, Saskia reckons maybe, or maybe she will have a bakery shop.”

Also Read: Tur dal seed coat has six times more calcium than milk: ICRISAT

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