Working day-in and day-out on 14.5 hectares of fertile Hawke’s Bay land growing predominantly beans, but also broccoli and a small area of crown pumpkin, you could say Andrea Young has green fingers. Once you hear more you might say she has market gardening practically flowing through her veins.
As a child growing up in Palmerston North, she spent time working in the family business where her father grew a wide range of vegetables.
“He was the older of five Leong brothers who have all been involved in market gardening,” says Andrea. “You pick a lot up as you go along.”
When you get talking about C&A Young, a market garden business Andrea runs with her husband Chris, you realise that not only have they drawn on generations of knowledge, but that their success is also down to a lot of hard work.
Starting with a modest roadside retail business in Havelock North, the couple then took over a growing operation from Chris’s parents, who retired in 1994. They maintained a lot of the traditional methods while also reshaping the business from a market garden growing a range of brassicas and root vegetables to one that focused on a small number of crops.
“We mainly grow green beans but also grow broccoli in the winter and a small area of crown pumpkin,” says Andrea. “The move to beans was driven by a decision to specialise and put our energy into doing them really well.”
The game-plan is to concentrate on producing beans continuously throughout the growing season, meaning they can ride out the low periods and capitalise on the good times.
For Andrea, it’s about keeping things simple and focusing on achieving a superior result. The beans are planted and constantly watered. Once picked, they're washed, graded, packed into crates and transported to MG the same day. While it sounds straightforward, great care is taken at each stage of the journey to ensure that only the finest beans end up in the market.
“We have a team of locals who pick all our beans by hand,” says Andrea. “We could easily invest in a harvester, but you don’t get the picking quality - that’s why we prefer old fashioned labour.”
“I like that it’s hands-on but it’s a lot of work. We’re only small – we’re a husband and wife team so we do what we can manage and we have to cover all bases.”
The couple are a complementary duo, with Andrea heavily involved in managing the workforce, sales and harvest, while Chris manages the land and crop production.
“Sometimes we even have to take separate holidays to make sure somebody is on site overseeing the business,” Andrea adds.
Andrea says they can’t do it alone and points to the support provided by MG Marketing as a key factor.
“They are up-front with the information they provide and for a business like ours it’s important to see what you’ve sold every day. I appreciate that the update is sent to us directly to help us make business decisions,” says Andrea. “Mark Middleton in the Auckland branch works tirelessly to sell our produce, as do the guys in Wellington and I talk to Procurement Manager Andrew Body about what’s happening in the business.”
“We stick with MG’s because they look after us.”
Covid-19 – adapting to change
We were a bit unsure what sort of impact it would have right at the start of lockdown because of the uncertainty around whether our main buyers would be operating.
We wasted a few rows of beans early on because we didn’t want to pick if we couldn’t sell our product and we also needed the land for planting.
Luckily, from then on it was pretty much business-as-usual with things turning out well as time progressed.
We’re really grateful for MG who worked hard to connect our product to buyers. Having the channel to a range of buyers has pretty much saved us, especially having access to Auckland, the biggest market in New Zealand.
It helped that one of our sons came back from university and joined our bubble so together as a team we could carry on planting.
For harvesting we developed a system where our pickers worked together in family bubbles. So instead of having a big group working together we downsized it and had four bubbles, who were all from the same household. There’s a lot of space for distancing and the bubbles worked at different ends of the paddock.
We had handwashing protocols and pickers have to wear gloves. From there, it was picking as normal.
Andrea and Chris Young
Image 1: Bean harvest at C&A Young's
Image 2: Andrea Young and MG Procurement Manager, Andrew Body