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By Brenda Webb

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 roadside stall.’

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 passion.

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 plastic.

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