A conversation with Erin Allison, Harvest Homegrown founder and gardener
Photo: Scope Media
A visit to Erin Allison’s market garden at her home in Hawea Flat is a feast for the senses.
Framed by stunning mountain views on all sides, visitors will immediately appreciate the neatly organized rows of garden beds and tunnel houses, currently filled with overwintered and early spring veggies, or waiting to be planted out with this season’s seedlings.
Next door a few sheep and a pair of horses casually graze the field, while a friendly cat stops by to visit seeking a bit of attention. The buzzing of bees can be heard amongst the bright yellow flowers of the tatsoi and mizuna that was left out over winter, offering an important food source for the bees in early spring while also serving to protect the soil from erosion and moisture loss. It’s a win win for everyone.
This idyllic setting was not always a picturesque and bountiful organic market garden. Erin started Harvest Homegrown just a few years ago, back in 2017, after looking for a bit of a career change.
“I had a full-time job in graphic design, owned my own graphic design business, and I knew I was getting to the point where I wanted a change, and I was thinking that I needed to do something different,” says Erin.
“And so I thought to myself, what do I want to do next? And I thought, I bloody love veggie gardening it would be awesome to do that, like imagine if I could just garden all day, that would be cool.”
So Erin began to research market gardening, reading all the books and watching all the videos on the subject that she could find. “We’ve been here 7 or 8 years now – market gardening was never in the plan when we first bought it! But the space was there, so why not give it a go.”
And just a few short years later, Erin’s dream is a reality. Her meticulously cared for garden, which takes up about 1/8 of an acre behind her Hawea Flat home, feeds around 30-40 Central Otago families each season with local, spray-free organic goodness. The families are so loyal buying from Erin each week that it can be very tough to get a spot to purchase from Harvest Homegrown.
“There was one patch where I had a massive waiting list for about a year and a half, and I felt terrible,” she says. “But I sell pretty much everything I grow, and I plan it that way so that I don’t have waste and so that I can maximise my space.”
Erin focuses on growing a variety of greens, which she sells in a weekly subscription, plus a wide range of produce that those on her list are able to choose from each week, keeping the selection incredibly fresh and based around what’s in season.
“I send an email on Sunday night, people order by 8am on Monday morning, I pick and pack all day Monday and then it’s in their hands by Tuesday. So you’re getting it the day after it’s been picked. And it seems to work – I’ve tried to get that balance of convenience, options that are relatable to what’s in the supermarket, what people like and what they are used to.”
For those lucky enough to be on the Harvest Homegrown list, Erin starts selling from around the middle of October through until everything is finished, which is generally the beginning of June.
“In June and July you’re starting to prep for the next season anyway, in July you start growing your seedlings, so there’s not actually that much of a break!”
For those who aren’t yet on the Harvest Homegrown list but would love to learn more about organic gardening and Harvest Homegrown, there are a couple ways to get involved.
One is through Erin’s seasonal Veggie Growing Workshops. Run every few months from her garden in Hawea Flat, each workshop is a day filled with hands-on experience and knowledge sharing as Erin walks participants through all aspects of what they should be doing in their home gardens at that moment, as well as prepping for the season to come. From sharing strategies on improving your soil health and composting, to companion planting, hands-on planting demonstrations and even pest control, Erin generously shares her expertise on all things organic gardening. The next Workshop will be held on November 13 & 14 so get in touch with Erin if you’d like to learn more or to book a spot.
The other way to experience Harvest Homegrown’s local organic goodness is to join us on a Forage & Feast Food Adventure. One of the stops could be Erin’s organic garden, where you would learn more about growing organic, spray-free produce in the harsh Central Otago climate and have the chance to taste some too!
You can stay up to date with what’s on at Harvest Homegrown by following their Facebook page.