Edward Pan has been selling certified organic vegetables at the Grey Lynn Farmers Market, since the market started twelve years ago.
Where did you grow up? China. I grew up in a village area on the outskirts of Guangzhou.
How did you decide to come to New Zealand?
I came here 20 years ago. I had heard from friends, and newspaper reports, that New Zealand was a quiet and peaceful place. It sounded like a good fit for me.
Did you study horticulture in China?
No - I worked as an accountant when I first moved here. I always loved the horticultural aspect of village life but I studied international trade and accounting.
Why did you change to become a farmer?
I was trying to find a place to live and I noticed an ad for a farm in Whenuapai. It was a horticultural business.
How did you learn to run the farm?
The previous owner trained me for a few months before I took over the business. Since then, I have learned from other experienced growers and learned on the job.
What was the farm like when you started?
When I started, the farm was half hydroponic lettuces and half land-grown vegetables. I tasted the hydroponic lettuce and hated it - it looked beautiful but it tasted of chemicals.
What did your customers think?
Back then, the customers were all wholesalers. I tried to talk them into switching to land-grown lettuces. They weren’t interested. They liked the hydroponic lettuces because they were so attractive and clean, but they were very unnatural - I couldn’t get over how white the roots were.
You don’t grow hydroponics any more.
No - I couldn’t bring myself to do that so I sold that business and moved to another farm where I could farm in a more traditional way.
And you changed who you were selling to.
Yes - when we moved, our main focus was to grow nutritious and tasty vegetables for ourselves and our children. When we started producing more than we could eat, we started selling the excess at markets. The founders of the Grey Lynn Farmers Market invited us to join their new market and we have been there ever since.
Were you always an organic grower?
We were using traditional farming practices, with no herbicide, no insecticides, and no artificial fertilizers. Our market customers liked that and encouraged us to grow more. It was our market customers who suggested that we become certified organic.
What did you need to do to become certified organic?
It takes three years to become fully certified with Bio Gro. We were very proud when we became fully certified in 2014, but it doesn’t end there. Every year we are audited for the seeds, fertilizer, and other materials that we use. Our soil and water are also tested each year. The standards are demanding so that customers can be assured about how their food is grown.
You seem to be getting more and more popular.
Yes - our customers are very loyal and they spread the word. Now that we have moved our stall into the Garden Room at the market, there is more space for customers and more space to display our vegetables.
How have you coped with the lockdowns?
We have been lucky that we could sell everything we produced to wholesalers. But we have been missing our customers and our market friends.
Is that why you sell at the market?
Yes - we have got to know our customers well over the years that we have been at the market. I love hearing how people are getting on in their lives and it’s amazing to see parents who used to bring small children with them and now those children have grown up. I’m looking forward to seeing them again when we get back to Level 2.
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Published 1 October 2021