We talk to John Vosper of Jersey Girl Organics, a regular face at Sunday's Grey Lynn Farmers Market.
What made you convert the farm to organic farming?
Liz went to a Fonterra field day and came back all fired-up, saying we needed to get into this. I’ve noticed that on lots of organic farms, it is women who have driven the change.
Is it harder farming organically?
Absolutely! It’s been a steep learning curve and a real paradigm shift. We spend more time on weed control with a grubber now that we no longer spray. We are more proactive about pasture management, choosing grasses that out-compete weeds. There is a lot more planning and manual work required in organic farming.
How many cows do you have?
Do know them all by name?
Actually, they do all have names because they are all pedigree registered. And they are all A2.
What is A2?
Beta-casein is one of the proteins in milk - it comes in two forms: A1 and A2. Most New Zealand milk contains A1 beta-casein, because it mainly comes from Friesian cows. A2 beta-casein, is more common in Jersey cows. We DNA test all our cows to make sure that our herd is only A2.
Why is that important?
It turns out that one of the digestive products of A1 can cause an inflammatory response in some people.
Ed - While talking to John at the market, one of his customers interrupted to make sure that I knew how important the A2 milk was. She thought her child was lactose intolerant until they tried Jersey Girls milk. It turned out that it was actually an A1 intolerance.
This is common - many of our customers used to think that they were lactose intolerant, but they can drink our milk.
Why do you sell at farmers markets?
It’s a great way to have conversations with the people who buy our milk. It strengthens rural/urban relationships and we get to listen to our customers’ concerns and this has prompted us to change some of the things we do. For instance, we now offer people the choice of milk in glass bottles. And we do not sell bobby calves - all our calves are raised to maturity.
It’s a family farm - how big is the family?
I’m one of six siblings and we are all close. Cleavedale farm is still the base for family events, even though we don’t all live there now.
What did you do for Christmas?
The family normally gathers at the farm but this year we all (about 30 of us) went to my sister’s vineyard on Waiheke 'Casita Miro' and were conscripted into a bit of work on the vines.
Ed - The family is clearly very close. While talking to John, his brother Peter popped in with a cup of add-your-own-milk tea because he (literally) lives just around the corner from the Grey Lynn Farmers Market.