Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Farming his way back to nature

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Hawke’s Bay farmers Greg and Rachel Hart are committed to producing top-quality food by using nature as a guide while re-establishing a connection between people and the land that sustains them. Colin Williscroft visited to see what they are doing.
Reading Time: 2 minutes


Optimising life – whether that’s soil life, plant life, animal health or the people who make it happen – is a guiding principle for Central Hawke’s Bay sheep and beef farmer Greg Hart.

Greg, who farms Mangarara Station near Elsthorpe with his wife Rachel and children George, Bill and Emma, operates a farming system focused not only on being productive in the short term. It has a longer-term focus, aiming to regenerate the land while helping build stronger connections between the landscape and people.

A key is balancing relationships between nature and production agriculture as part of ecosystem restoration, including a focus on soil health, carbon sequestration and planting native and food-producing trees.

The farm and an eco lodge built in 2015 are also used for education, accommodation and inspiration, allowing people to connect back to nature, food and farming.

Greg’s parents moved to Mangarara Station – part of Elms Hill Station before it was subdivided – from Methven in 1990 while Greg was doing his OE.

He came back and worked on the farm while also getting other work experience.

Then the part of the farm he and Rachel now live on, which was part of the original block before being split off, became available and the couple moved there in 1996.

That saw the two farms put together, bringing the property to about 600ha, or 470ha effective.

Since then the couple have moved the farm away from a traditional sheep and beef operation, which used to run about 3000 ewes, to a diverse and integrated farm that seeks to balance ecosystem restoration and the production of healthy, nutritious food.

It’s a philosophy that represents a big change in approach from when they first began.

Greg comes from a conventional agricultural background with a degree in agriculture from Massey University while his early working life involved jobs using a solely production model.

Around the time Greg and Rachel’s first child was born he was learning all he could about the sustainability of traditional agricultural practices and the role of energy in everyday lives.

It led him to think about New Zealand pastoral agriculture and its reliance on bringing nutrients in from the other side of the world. That included the availability of phosphorus and the amount of energy involved in getting it onto paddocks in NZ.

He began digging deeper, learning more through reading and workshops, with early influences including the work of Arden Andersen and Graeme Sait.

Greg Hart says the eco lodge and education centre built about four years ago provide another income stream for the farm while also helping connect visitors with farm life.

More reading

Greg Hart’s recommended reading for people who want to know more:

The Carbon Farming Solution by Eric Toensmeier

Drawdown by Paul Hawkin

Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepherd

Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown

The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson

Kiss the Ground by Josh Tickell

Holistic Management by Allan Savory  

Climate – A New Story by Charles Eisenstein

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