Grower keeping it local

Brad Trebilcock has been harvesting potatoes from his family’s block of land in Mosgiel and...
Brad Trebilcock has been harvesting potatoes from his family’s block of land in Mosgiel and selling them at a local retail outlet. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
When it comes to food miles (or minutes), it does not get much better than Brad Trebilcock’s spuds — about 10 minutes, in fact.

That is the distance from where he sourced the machinery to grow and harvest his potato patch, the produce from which is now being sold at a nearby retail outlet in Mosgiel.

The environmental consultant’s foray into potato growing was seeded by his parents, Andrew and Karen, who returned from a four-month stint in North America last year "staggered" by food prices in New Zealand.

Then there was English television personality Jeremy Clarkson who, on his television series Clarkson’s Farm, harvested potatoes and sold them from his farm shop, causing a traffic nightmare as customers sought out his spuds.

Mr Trebilcock figured if Clarkson could make money from his patch of land, then he could, too.

As a farming family, the Trebilcocks knew how to "grow things" and his father had always grown potatoes in his home vegetable garden.

The next step was to figure out a way to plant the seed potatoes. Their stock agent’s father had done potato trials at Invermay and his son still had the potato planter nearby.

A neighbour had a moulder to mould potatoes about 30 years ago, while Mr Trebilcock once milked cows at a dairy farm near the airport where there was a potato digger.

All that machinery had been lying in paddocks, rusting away for the last 30 or 40 years, and was only a 10-minute drive away.

And there was probably only about a day’s work involved greasing it and replacing tyres, he said.

The equipment, aged from about 50 to 70 years, was easy to fix as it was simple technology used back then with no electronics, Mr Trebilcock said.

Discussing his venture with others, he discovered that it sparked an interest as many recalled potato picking in their youth when there were plenty of potatoes grown on the Taieri.

Then it came to how best to sell the potatoes and a friend put Mr Trebilcock in touch with local greengrocer Mosgiel Garden Fresh which had a policy of sourcing as much local produce as possible as part of its "locals support locals campaign".

Owner operators Will and Fiona Leith were happy to stock the potatoes and Mr Trebilcock has supplied about 600kg over two weeks taken from the 1ha patch which grew both Agria and Nadine varieties, chosen for their versatility.

It had been a fun endeavour and one that was not time-consuming, aside from several hours a week spent harvesting, he said.

Potatoes remained a popular staple vegetable so they were always in demand, and it had also been great to tap into local knowledge and equipment, he said.