Family lavender farm flourishing

The 12ha Wanaka Lavender Farm is run as a commercial lavender farm, but is still very much a...
The 12ha Wanaka Lavender Farm is run as a commercial lavender farm, but is still very much a family farm. PHOTO: WANAKA LAVENDER FARM
When there’s a will there’s a way.

That would just about sum up things for the Zeestraten family when they first came to a bare paddock in Wanaka about eight years ago, and began to establish their 12ha Wanaka Lavender Farm.

With the lavender beginning to bloom for a new season, co-owner Tim Zeestraten (37) recalls a journey that began 25 years ago when the family moved from Holland.

"My opa (grandfather) was a tomato grower, which my dad, Jan Zeestraten took over. I was probably — actually most definitely — going to be next in line to continue the family tomato farm, which I was very excited about at the young age of 10.

"I was always keen to get involved growing up, as a little boy trying to skip as many days of school as possible so I could help Dad with the tomatoes."

However, his parents had other ideas. They wanted a more relaxed life, so they packed up their family and belongings and moved to New Zealand.

"I was a bit disappointed about leaving, but it did mean being able to do other things like surfing, diving and spending time in the mountains."

He confessed to an ongoing love affair with tomatoes.

"Going from my father growing 30,000 in Holland under glass to a few growing in a handyman’s glasshouse or even outdoors, fresh tomatoes to me are a must. Everyone should grow tomatoes if they can."

The family settled in Lincoln, not far from Christchurch, and took on a market gardening business, growing asparagus, leeks, beans, spring onions, etc, which they ran with zero staff, a complete contrast to life in the Netherlands.

"My uncle was an engineer and together we built a go-kart to rip around on the farm. This got me into engineering and I went through polytechnic to study mechanical engineering. This is how I got most of my life skills and lavender farming is no different; it’s just a different type of engineering."

His mother Corry had always dreamed of growing herbs, and following their stint as market gardeners, his parents took on a lavender farm in Kaikoura in about 2008, and when they sold it, brought that knowledge with them to the new operation in Wanaka.

His younger brother Stef, who was finishing his professional snowboarding career, soon joined the venture and started a new career.

While some might find it daunting, Mr Zeestraten found the development of new areas from large grass or lucerne paddocks into lavender fields an enjoyable challenge.

Lavender Farm co-owners Tim and Jessica Zeestraten and their daughter Maple (now 4), harvest...
Lavender Farm co-owners Tim and Jessica Zeestraten and their daughter Maple (now 4), harvest strawberries on their property near Wanaka. PHOTO: LAVENDER FARM

"Apologies to my neighbour Ken, who laughs every time we chop up another section for lavender. I love all the stages from preparing the soil, to setting up irrigation systems and choosing the most suitable plant or structure. This adds another unique experience for our guests at the farm. They get excited and that gives me a big buzz."

Wanaka was definitely a place to have a lifestyle, but you still "have to work your butt off to get what you want to achieve".

"It’s been a great journey developing a lavender farm on a blank piece of dirt, getting amazing help from our family and ideas from the Kaikoura lavender farm."

Now eight years on and married "to my amazing wife, Jessica, who has quietly driven many parts of the operation from the very beginning", this wing of the Zeestraten family has two children, Maple (4) and Crosby (15 months).

"We are so grateful to live on and around the farm, as this is exactly how I grew up.

"We make sure to utilise all that Wanaka has to offer and getting up the mountain with mountain bikes or by foot or on skis is a hobby we love."

While it produced commercial lavender, he still saw the property as very much a family farm, "where a crop is grown to the best of my skill set and harvested in the appropriate season, to produce a wonderful product.

"I love being involved in growing plants and trees. It makes a simple grass paddock into a forest of different plant species, and lavender plants add the most amazing colour, and a great place for the bees to get to work."

MARY-JO TOHILL

Comments

Well worth a visit and lovely people.

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