Tornado devastates couple's organic crop

Amberley lifestylers Lorraine Liddle and Gianni Prencipe sell vegetables from their stall at the Ohoka Farmers' 
Market, following last month's tornado which destroyed most of their crops. Most of this produce was harvested before the tornado. Photo by David Hill
Amberley lifestylers Lorraine Liddle and Gianni Prencipe sell vegetables from their stall at the Ohoka Farmers' Market, following last month's tornado which destroyed most of their crops. Most of this produce was harvested before the tornado. Photo by David Hill

An Amberley couple are not giving up, despite losing most their organic vegetable crop in the recent tornado.

Lorraine Liddle and Gianni Prencipe said they would bounce back after they lost about 90% of their storage and later sown crops in the tornado which ripped through Amberley on Sunday, February 23.

The couple live off a small scale intensive commercial market garden they run on a 2ha leased block.

''As a grower, you can look at this as the bleakest side, but you've got to try and carry on and make the best of it, or that would be even worse,'' Mr Prencipe said.

He said he was driving home from an Organic Farm New Zealand Canterbury branch meeting, which he chairs, when the storm struck and he saw sheds and trees coming down.

In the days following the storm, the couple worked from ''dawn 'til dusk'' to salvage harvest what crops they could save and resowed their winter crops, with the help of a couple of ''wwoofers'' who were staying with them.

Their main cash crop of onions was damaged in the storm. While they could still sell the onions fresh, they would be unable to store them to sell through the winter months when the bulk were normally sold, Mr Prencipe said.

They were now hoping for a mild autumn ''so we can grow something that we can sell at the markets to keep a brave face through the winter'', he said.

''This is the worst time of the year to get this sort of weather. Hail normally happens around Christmas or in the New Year and you've got time to resow and be sure that you'll have something for the winter. But it's going to be touch and go.

''In two weeks' time, we will still show our face, but it will be pretty bare,'' he said at the Ohoka Farmers' Market, near Rangiora, recently.

Mr Prencipe said he would need to find employment to get through the winter months and he had already been offered some part-time work.

The couple moved to Amberley 18 months ago and started selling their produce at the weekly Ohoka Farmers' Market in October last year. Before that, they were selling at the Christchurch Farmers' Market at Riccarton Bush.

The couple also sold produce to organics shops in Christchurch.

Mr Prencipe said the Christchurch market was becoming ''more like an outdoor supermarket''.

''Here [Ohoka], you're bringing it back from the commercial and impersonal to the personal and local.

''The locals here want to know where the food has come from and the story behind it. They want to be a part of that, and that's what's so beautiful.''

Mr Prencipe grew up in Belgium, where his mother was born in Flanders, while his father was Italian. He trained as a chef, but after moving to New Zealand found that chefs worked longer hours and were paid less than in Europe, so he decided to change careers.

He ran a large-scale worm farm in the North Island, before studying at Lincoln University and later lectured at the Biological Husbandry Unit, before he and Ms Liddle decided to go out on their own, leasing properties at Tai Tapu, Okuti and Pigeon Bay on Banks Peninsula, before moving to Amberley.

The couple have three children, who enjoyed having their own strawberry patch and pea patch and climbing plum and apple trees.

Their business, Field to Feast Organics, sold certified organic leafy greens, potatoes, onions, brassicas, garlics, herbs, fruits, berries and other vegetable crops.

- by David Hill