Emily Hope smiles as she strolls through the family’s Old Road
Estate fig and feijoa orchard on the outskirts of Blenheim, five-month-old
Louie happily perched in her front pack.
‘This is where we are all happiest,’ she says, looking around the
immaculately maintained orchard. ‘My two-and-a-half-year-old adores running
around here and we bring mum out here in her wheelchair.’ And it’s where she
takes local chefs and buyers for the fresh figs she grows and sells. ‘Chefs
want to meet us, see the land and see where the food is coming from – it’s all
about provenance – people are so much more interested in where their food comes
from these days.’
Emily says people buy locally so they can talk to the grower about
the food they are buying. Old Road Estate figs and feijoas are sold throughout
the country and also at their roadside stall on Old Renwick Rd in Blenheim. ‘I
remember as a child we’d drive around Marlborough with our spare change and
stop to buy corn and asparagus at roadsides stalls. I like the idea that people
are going back to basics and we want to be part of that movement, hence the
The roadside stalls are flourishing as producers realise the public,
like so many chefs, want to buy food as close as possible to its source. Emily
sees this as part of a reaction away from consumerism, people increasingly
buying just what they need, often direct from the grower.
Their orchard produces several varieties of figs including Brown
Turkey, Robin and Cape White. Their
delicate flesh and distinctive flavour are highly prized by chefs. But the same
delicate flesh can cause headaches for Emily as figs have a very short
shelf-life – just two to three days. Each fig must be handpicked and carefully
placed in a small bucket so they don’t get crushed. They are taken to the cool room, and hand
graded and sorted before being sent promptly to market. While they are a
difficult fruit to deal with, with lower returns than other crops including
grapes, Emily wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘We wear our hearts on our sleeves when it comes to our figs,’ she says.
Emily grew up on the family property and feels fortunate her parents
were passionate about trees. Dad Kevin
took cuttings of heritage trees and never stopped planting and the property
today sports masses of specimen and fruit trees and more than 1000 figs and
feijoas as well as citrus and a large vegetable garden. At last year’s Feast
Marlborough Emily showcased her figs selling them with other local goat’s
cheese, olive oil and walnuts.
After 12 years away from Marlborough, studying nutrition in Dunedin
then working in Italy and Auckland, Emily returned home five years ago to help
on the family farm. It runs sheep and cattle and Sauvignon Blanc grapes as well
as the orchard. It was a bittersweet
homecoming as in 2016 her mum Lynda, who had run the sales arm of the family
business for 10 years, suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm that resulted in a
stroke. Emily took on responsibility for the orchard which has now become a
When she was living in Auckland her parents would send up figs and
feijoas for Emily to sell at markets and she quickly realised their potential. As
a nutritionist, she has a vested interest in the benefits of eating fresh
seasonal produce, and she is pleased to see people taking a more old-school
approach to food.
‘People are really interested in where and how their food is grown.
I also think people want to eat local produce and of course those who do are
supporting the local economy. We always support those cafes and restaurants
that use our produce.’
Emily has her hands full right now with a young baby and a toddler,
but says she has ‘loads’ of ideas for the future. This season their figs will
be sold in compostable containers as the orchard does its bit towards reducing