How these Helensville entrepreneurs are reshaping their land — and future — with native trees

Fiona and Peter with their two highland cattle.

This couple had to rethink how to put two hectares to good use when their soil was deemed too unstable for a factory.

Words: Michael Andrew  Images: James Blackwood

What do you do when you’re not allowed to build on your land because of unstable soil? Plant 14,000 trees of course. At least that’s what Peter Kearns and Fiona Dykes did on their two-hectare lifestyle block in Helensville, an hour north of Auckland. As the founders of fermented food business, Living Goodness, the couple had originally wanted to build their factory on their land. But following a geotech report which found the ground unsuitable, they bought a small factory a few kilometres away in Helensville township, and decided to put their land to other uses.

“What it did allow us to do was have a bit of a rethink about what we wanted to do with the land and how we wanted to shape our future,” Fiona says.

FMG sent out lifestyle block owner and chef Michael Van de Elzen, and lifestyle advice and insurance specialist, Montana Kerr, to see the restoration project in action.

That rethink led to an intensive reforesting and wetland restoration project, in which the couple built two dams, put in a bore and planted thousands of kawakawa, tōtara, harakeke, kōwhai, kahikatea and kauri. They’ve also created a thriving orchard with nectarines, apples, plums, peaches, nashi pears, lemons, oranges, guavas, apricots and avocados. Peter says the orchard is so prolific they get fruit from December through to August – nine months of the year.

“We got all our trees from the local nursery, and I think it’s best to start them smaller,” Peter says. “They take a lot better when they’re smaller and the results were amazing. We learned new skills everyday and we can hear the birds coming back.”

When they first bought the land, they got insurance coverage for their house through FMG. However, they intend to eventually demolish the old house and build a new one in its place.

They also have a vision to turn the land into a holiday accommodation where guests can experience their beautiful restoration project. They plan to build dwellings, walking paths around the property and vehicle access from the road.

“It’s a long-term proposition, there’s been a lot of challenges and a lot of good rewards,” Fiona says.

“We just want to create a beautiful place for people to come and stay,” says Peter. “It’s a lot of work and you’ve really got to be committed to get it done. But it’s very fulfilling, we’re loving what we’re doing, so we’ll see what the future holds.”

In the meantime, their fermented food business is humming, with plenty of kimchi and sauerkraut left over for their pigs and two happy and healthy highland cattle – Donald Rump and Moo Biden.

Watch more of their story here.

As New Zealand’s leading rural insurer with over 117 years of experience, FMG can provide you with specialist advice and award-winning insurance for your lifestyle block.

Phone: 0800 366 466

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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