Allan Fong, the Pukekohe market gardener and face of The Fresh Grower, who’s introduced New Zealanders to an exciting menu of versatile and flavourful vegetables, has been recognised as an outstanding leader and innovator winning a prestigious Australasian agribusiness award for all-round excellence.
“Our seasonal selections reinvent familiar veges but with a fresh take and grown to fit the current generation’s values, lifestyles and tastes for natural, convenient, whole foods that are safe and delicious to eat,” says Allan, who runs The Fresh Grower with brother Colin. “We take what are niche or exotic products like baby cos and fancy lettuces or slender broccoli stems and make them readily accessible, mainstream lines that add variety and versatility to every day meals.”
The new seasonal products, grown at the family farm at Pukekohe by the second, third and fourth generations of Fongs, offer a rainbow of colours and eating experiences from red and yellow baby beetroots, baby caulis in purple, white and green and new mini cabbages in red and green to fit easily into the vegetable drawer.
They exemplify why Allan won the supreme award at the Australasian Syngenta Growth Awards which recognise excellence and best practice in productivity, sustainability and contribution to the community and people.
“As food producers, we’ve got to put our hands up to find solutions that will help feed the world’s ever-increasing population on ever decreasing productive land availability,” he says. “We have to do what’s best by the environment, our practices and our people,” he says.
Looking back to when the family started out in 1948, Allan says the business still has the same focus on the customer and extending their taste experiences but has sought out the latest in world-class practices to ensure sustainability.
“Our ethos is to work with nature and the seasonal cycles to farm sustainably and reduce our environmental footprint. We choose higher yielding crops that require lower inputs, rotate crops to nurture the soil, irrigate with water from our own deep artesian bores, use best practice bio-control and integrated pest management, adopt mobile software to provide real time information and transparency across the whole value chain and now I’m hoping to go solar in the packhouse and run electric vehicles. We’ve also got a responsibility to our 50 or so workers, some of whom have been with us for 30 years, to do right by them.”
Allan says he listens to Gen Y and the millennials and their concerns over protecting the environment and producing authentic, honest and safe food.
“They are conscious consumers and make their buying decisions based on what the behaviour and values of the company, not just the product, actually are. I respect that,” he says.
While The Fresh Grower has around 500 acres under cultivation and a nationwide market, Allan sees the trend for home gardening and the return to home cooking and focus on wellbeing as positive.
“I love meeting our consumers and demonstrating some of my favourite ideas for our products – and sharing 5 minute or less recipes on the back of our packs to make it easy for people who are trying one of our new vege or salad lines for the first time to eat healthily and deliciously.”
Allan, who is still up at 3.00am and calls it a day long after dark, says he continues to be excited about what the next seasonal offering is going to be.
“My big vision is to continue to mentor the next generation who will further the business and produce good, safe produce that people enjoy and is good for their health and wellbeing.”
Allan Fong, The Fresh Grower checking one of his latest taste sensations: baby cabbage