Organics – a future for an Argentinian

By Alina Suchanski

Reading time: 10 minutes

12,000 years ago, the emergence of agriculture triggered a radical change in the way societies operated. It was dubbed the ‘Neolithic Revolution’; a time when humans transitioned from a nomadic to a settled way of life. For millennia, people have been using animal manure to fertilise their fields and it wasn’t until the 19th century that chemical fertilisers were invented. Today, as the organic movement is gaining momentum, an increasing number of farmers turn to natural methods of food production. Alina Suchanski visits a Southland family business, a pioneer in the field of organics, that was recently handed over from its Kiwi creator to an Argentinian entrepreneur.

On the Queenstown-Invercargill Highway, near the sleepy village of Winton, a large red building catches the eye. Up until earlier this year the building and the business it houses belonged to local farmer Greg Crowe and his family. Having run the venture for over 25 years Greg was ready to pass it on to a successor, but with his four children pursuing their own careers and his grandchildren too young to take over the business, he started casting his net further afield.

 

By Alina Suchanski

Reading time: 10 minutes

12,000 years ago, the emergence of agriculture triggered a radical change in the way societies operated. It was dubbed the ‘Neolithic Revolution’; a time when humans transitioned from a nomadic to a settled way of life. For millennia, people have been using animal manure to fertilise their fields and it wasn’t until the 19th century that chemical fertilisers were invented. Today, as the organic movement is gaining momentum, an increasing number of farmers turn to natural methods of food production. Alina Suchanski visits a Southland family business, a pioneer in the field of organics, that was recently handed over from its Kiwi creator to an Argentinian entrepreneur.

On the Queenstown-Invercargill Highway, near the sleepy village of Winton, a large red building catches the eye. Up until earlier this year the building and the business it houses belonged to local farmer Greg Crowe and his family. Having run the venture for over 25 years Greg was ready to pass it on to a successor, but with his four children pursuing their own careers and his grandchildren too young to take over the business, he started casting his net further afield.

Young Argentinian migrant Nicolas Souto from Buenos Aires, Argentina, started his working life at the age of 19, joining his family business and gaining experience in hospitality services and commercial property management. After four years he decided it was time to see the world and in 2008 came to New Zealand on a 12-month working holiday visa. He fell in love with the country, but most of all he enjoyed Queenstown. When he returned five years later with his partner Denice, it was here that they chose to settle.

Moving from the 15-million people metropolis of Buenos Aires to a town with a population of 15,000 was a bit of a culture shock for the young couple. Buenos Aires is a multicultural city, home to multiple ethnic and religious groups and is believed to be one of the most diverse cities of the Americas. Several languages are spoken in addition to Spanish.

“It took us a while to slow down and adjust to the Kiwi rhythm, because we were experiencing a very stressful lifestyle in Buenos Aires before coming here. There are many differences between our two countries as our heritage is completely different. The way people express themselves – especially feelings. For example, Kiwis, in general, are more restrained; but we are used to kissing and hugging and we are very loud,” Nicolas explains with a smile.

“In Argentina, there is a very strong tradition around the dinner table. It’s not only about the food as much as getting together with family and friends, so a meal over the weekend may last for hours. It happens when you get together for a BBQ or asado as we call it, or when you eat fresh pasta on a Sunday.”

Asked what he misses most from his country, he places family and friends at the top of the list. Like most migrants, he misses the food of his homeland, but adds that “since we have a fairly large Latin community in Queenstown, you can treat yourself with sausages from Zamora or pastries from Gipsy Oven. Then, you don’t feel that far from home. We’re fortunate enough to have found and built an amazing group of friends here in Queenstown, our safety net, so we don’t miss Argentina much.”

Nicolas thinks that if one works hard, one can succeed. He found a job as a concierge at a large hotel and later worked for a golf course resort near Arrowtown as a housekeeping manager. With 75 staff reporting to him, the job was demanding and stressful. After a few years he was ready for a change and a new challenge.

In 2016 their daughter was born and that altered his outlook on the world. “Over the past years, I’ve been more and more interested in nature. The more I learn about how Mother Nature works, the more I want to know. I watched a National Geographic documentary called One strange rock. That resonated with me. It helped me to realise how perfect our planet is – and how fragile at the same time. The fact that I have a daughter makes me think that we all have to play our part so her generation can live on a decent and healthy planet,” Nicolas muses.

During the lockdown he started toying with the idea of a worm farm. While surfing the internet he saw the advertisement from Greg Crowe for a business making a natural liquid fertiliser. “I travelled to Winton to meet Greg, who charmed me. I liked the idea behind his ‘compost tea’. The process of production is simple. Everything made sense to me,” Nicolas remembers.

His partner, Denice, an accountant, was not keen to start with. “It was my lack of experience in this field that put her off, but once she realised I was determined to make it happen, she started to change her mind. Then, she met Greg and now she feels confident that we have the support we need,” Nicolas says.

Greg Crowe and his late wife Noni were running the family sheep farm in Southland alongside Greg’s two brothers. As well as farming, he has also pursued an interest in racehorses. Greg and Noni started breeding horses and at one stage had four stallions and 120 mares. The money from this venture helped to fund their new property in Otapiri, Southland. “Our neighbour noticed the pile of manure we pulled out of the shed. Being ‘organic’ she needed an organic-certified supply of fertiliser and suggested we seek BioGro certification,” Greg says.

What started off as a hobby, ultimately came to be a business. Greg admits it was a steep learning-curve to move from farming to sales and marketing; dealing with pricing, production, promotion, and distribution. Becoming BioGro certified wasn’t easy, but they managed to get the certification and keep it over the years. In 2008, Greg sold his farm and committed himself fully to the production of the liquid fertiliser.

Greg Crowe symbolically hands over the company to Nicolas Souto

Nicolas firmly believes that organics are the way of the future and officially purchased Greg’s business in February 2021. Particularly attractive to the Argentinian was “the potential to use rainwater and solar power in the production process, making it a really sustainable business with very little environmental impact and very little waste.”

He is looking forward to growing the business and keeping it sustainable. Having sheep manure for raw material means they have enough compost stock for eight to ten years of production, so it’s feasible. “I want to do good for the people of our community, help those who want to eat better, healthier food, and promote a healthy lifestyle. Being a father, you become aware of how important good nutrition is in the first five years of a child’s life,” he says.

Sheep have provided natural fertiliser since the emergence of agriculture

Looking to the future he is hoping to introduce automation (filling bottles, labelling) and is working on a new design for the labels. Although he wants to put his own stamp on the company, he acknowledges and respects the foundation laid down by his predecessor. “I want to continue Greg’s way of running the business with trust and honesty,” he says.

 

Sources: 1. The Development of Agriculture, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society 2. Buenos Aires, Wikipedia

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