National | Business

Passion for food produce way of life for whānau Māori

Since the beginning of time farming and horticulture have been some of the hardest jobs and businesses to run, more recently it's even becoming a thankless service largely due to the disconnect of people growing their own food and the convenience of the supermarket just a car ride away.

Aneta and Briton Williams were born into farming and horticulture and their passion to produce food grew from there. After a harvest trail OE in Australia together in 2008 Aneta and Briton were able to start a business in Matatā found in the sunny Eastern Bay of Plenty.

We sat down with Briton and discussed the conception and development of The Produce Patch and how it has survived Covid-19.

Where did your passion come from to start up this business?

We were both born into the horticultural life. Aneta's side of the family ran asparagus corner out at Matatā for about 22 years and on my side of the family we grew onions, squash, sweetcorn, kamokamo, blueberries, boysenberries and strawberries. I loved being on the farm with my family and cousins when I was a kid working the land. Later Aneta and I did the harvest trail in Australia working different jobs along the way like picking apples, harvesting pearls and looking after grapes. It was from then on that Aneta and I knew that our future was going to be in the horticulture sector and we wanted to be our own bosses so we opened Produce Patch.

What is the name of your business?

Our business is called Produce Patch but originally I wanted it to be a Māori name, but because our crop was asparagus we thought that it might not be the target market, so I was beaten out.

How long has your business been operating?

14 years we have been going for now.

How many staff do you have employed?

Well before Covid, we hired a guy to plow our sweetcorn field and he ended up ploughing our asparagus field completely ruining our crop. So we had six staff for half the year but now we only employ part-timers for picking for about four weeks and the rest is whānau power. My mother runs the shop, my dad drives the tractor every morning for picking and an older cousin works with us as well. My wife runs the whole operation and my daughter packs the crates. As for me, I am relegated to the field and I have been banned from the shop and the van entirely – I give too much sweetcorn and watermelon away! So I stay in the paddocks which is fine by me.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business?

This season was pretty interesting because of Covid and the running of the business. The flow of running the shop and the day-to-day is affected, just as long as the customer understands what is required it went smoother. We can’t go to farmers' markets because it's no longer economical to run those markets anymore. Not too long ago we did a Covid vaccination station. People could come in, get the jab, get a free smoothie and a 30 dollar PakN’Save card so that was mean.

Vaccine passes: have you had any issues?

Sometimes you get those people, you just adjust. Asked then what they would like while they wait at the door.

What’s your favourite summer fruit and veg?

The Bay of Plenty is famous for its sweetcorn, kamokamo and watermelon so I can't really say but that watermelon is mean from Te Teko. All three have been top sellers through the holidays. Watermelon has actually not changed in price because there aren’t any imports so that’s nice for growers to get good pūtea in the pocket.

Are there any other summer treats that people miss out on that they should give a try?

It is actually very surprising that we still get people every season asking what a kamokamo is and how to cook it. And of course, for Produce Patch, people are missing out on our strawberry and banana ice-creams!

If you want to visit Briton at Produce Patch, you can find him at 1611 Thornton Road, Matatā.