Case for growing food

Angela Beazer surveys her hydroponic lettuces. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Angela Beazer surveys her hydroponic lettuces. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A Southland lawyer-turned lettuce farmer is looking forward to devoting all her time to expanding her hydroponics business.

Aviation lawyer Angela Beazer, who has been working for the Civil Aviation Authority part-time, was a recent recipient of a $2.5million Provincial Growth Fund loan.

While flying high, the 45-year-old has her feet firmly on the ground. With plans afoot to triple the lettuce farm’s production, it had become clear to her she could no longer do both jobs and would have to quit one.

"But now I’m ready for change. I’ve been trying to juggle both, but they’re not complementary.

"I have a life many people would envy. I can work to my own schedule. I can be there to pick up my daughter from school, but as I say, they (lawyer/lettuce growing) are not complementary. I could not give 100% to both. If I do something I like to do it properly.

"I’m quite looking forward to focusing just on the lettuces."

If someone had told the former career professional eight years ago that she was destined to become a lettuce farmer, she would have laughed.

"I pictured lettuces sown out in the middle of muddy paddock. Not my cup of tea at all."

She and her partner, Craig Macalister, had already taken a big leap of faith when they moved from Wellington to Invercargill so that he could take up a new position with financial advisory and accountancy firm Findex.

However, it was their frustration at not being able to find a suitable rural lifestyle block that led them to a property in Myross Bush.

Shoulder-tapped by a real estate agent, they went out and looked at a place that happened to have a hydroponics setup — Drysdale Hydroponics.

"I knew nothing about growing lettuces. We’d been down here about a year. I had a plot where I grew some veges — a bit of broccoli, some cauliflower, a few potatoes. Actually the potatoes were already there. That was about the extent of my horticultural experience."

Fast forward eight years and now she grows lettuce by the hundreds at her farm Southern Hydroponics, still trading as Drysdale Hydroponics, near Invercargill.

And with the expansion that will employ another 30 people, she’s set to grow more, and other vegetable crops, including capsicums and tomatoes.

"We’re been producing a fairly fixed amount of product. The business does need to expand, because there’s more competition. The minimum wage’s gone up, so you either shut down or you expand and make it worthwhile."

Increasing production and lowering costs made for better economies of scale. Ms Beazer liked the concept of hydroponics as an efficient way of growing food on a large scale.

However, while it had been a great move, it was also a huge lifestyle change,

"I think sometimes, ‘why am I doing it?’ But you’re working at waist height — you’re not having to bend and I quite like working under cover, but still feeling like you’re working outdoors.

"On the other hand, this is a 24/7, 365-day operation. Someone has to be here watching all the time. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes."

It was sometimes hard to close the greenhouse door and walk away, when you had to be constantly checking things like nutrient and temperature, she said.

"One thing I’m really looking forward to is being able to move to a heat pump from the boiler, with the expansion."

There might also be time to take up some interests again — like zumba.

"I was doing it, but since lockdown and everything I haven’t got back into it and I’ve been a bit of a lazy bum and not been doing it."

Mary-Jo Tohill

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