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Cath and Paul Baker

Owned by Cath and Paul Baker, Sevenoaks is a prosperous sheep, beef and cropping farm near Renwick, Marlborough. Along with growing oats, red clover and wheat, the 121-hectare property also dedicates space for Sauvignon Blanc grapes, making it an exciting and diverse operation.

It was shaping up to be a warm, blue sky day when we arrived at Sevenoaks. The farm consists of 189 ewes, 44 hoggets and their offspring, along with 40 cows and their calves. When we visited, they had just finished lambing, and their crops, spread across 18 hectares, were still at early maturity. Paul first began planting crops as a chance to try something different. “A lot of people in Marlborough have grapes, and even though they are a great earner, we just wanted to be a bit more diverse. You’ve got to enjoy what you do, and I enjoy doing the crops and the cattle. As much as we enjoy the grapes, it’s not my passion. My passion is more the great art of animals and crops,” Paul said.

“Our wheat is harvested and is sold locally as feed wheat. Our oats go to a seed company called OsGro Seed Services and get distributed all over Marlborough and Canterbury, where they’ll be planted for winter feed, and our red clover seed goes to Invercargill and gets distributed to farmers down there. The red clover crop is the one that produces quite well.”

Living rurally is all Paul has ever really known. He is a qualified electrician and has worked in the trade for several years. Originally from Taranaki, Paul grew up on his parents’ dairy farm and has spent time there, in Mount Somers and Leeston, before moving to Marlborough with his wife Cath in 2010 to take over her family farm. “Sevenoaks is my family’s farm, the Goulter family,” Cath highlighted. “It was part of Hawkesbury Station – a wider Merino run that used to be 3,000 hectares back in the day. Now, I’ve still got two cousins that live and farm in the valley, and my kids are the sixth generation of my family to be on this land, so that’s really special.”

“Diversity is what makes us unique. We haven’t got all our eggs in one basket; we do a bit of everything. We’re very lucky that our soils are versatile and naturally fertile; it’s a beautiful soil for growing crops, and it’s not too stony. The tree life is amazing on this farm, and it’s a great place to bring up kids. I was brought up on a farm, and I think I turned out alright, so I like the idea of bringing our kids up in the same environment,” Paul added.

The farm has had four years of harvest from their nine-hectare block of grapes and they’ve also planted, with Cath’s sister, another seven and a half-hectare block which should be producing grapes this year. Sauvignon Blanc is a popular variety to grow in Marlborough, and it’s made a name for itself on a global scale. A lot of growers choose this variety because the region has the perfect climate for it, it produces well, and it’s not too complicated to grow.

Sevenoaks is run solely by Cath and Paul, with the pair saying that it’s small enough for both of them to handle and that their work ethics complement one another. Their children, Zoe, 15, and Ollie, 13, help on the farm and in the vineyard too, earning themselves weekly pocket money.

“Paul has a fabulous ability to feed stock well, and he’s so good with machinery. I’m more on the technical, nerdy side, enjoying soil science, viticulture and agronomy. I think as a partnership, we work together well,” Cath said.

In 2012, they started up a tourism business called the Omaka Maze that covered seven hectares and was open eight weeks of the year, or for as long as their maize crop lasted. The maze was a perfect outing for a family to come and get involved in nature. They also did two horror nights per year, where they would hire actors to dress up and scare people, but also have a laugh along the way. Paul said that they might get another year out of it, but it does take a while to set up, so you may just be in luck if you’re based in the Marlborough region.

“There were two mazes: the first maze was a racing maze where you had to find your way out, and the second was used to find letters that made up a word. I loved hearing the families giggling and laughing; it was a lot of fun.”

Sevenoaks has two QEII covenants on the farm: a planted wetland established by Cath’s parents, Val and David, and a planted native area where biodiversity flourishes, which adds another layer to their farming operation. Every generation has planted trees at Sevenoaks; the oldest trees which are protected on the NZ Notable Tree Register were planted in 1873.

“We try to farm as an agricultural system. So, every part of our farm works together. The cropping side works well with the stock as a rotation; the tree life creates a lovely habitat for bees, which helps pollinate our seed crops. It just all works together. I think diversity is our real strength and helps us to farm more sustainably,” Cath said.

A couple of years ago, they put a star-gazing observatory on the farm, which was the brain work of one of Cath and Paul’s friends. The Omaka Observatory Charitable Trust operates the Omaka Observatory, where both young and old come to learn about astrology, the planets and constellations. Sevenoaks is not just about farming but also an educational experience for students and the community, showcasing pride in the rural sector.

“I love our diversity and the change of landscapes from full vineyards to flat farms. We don’t have any hill country, but the diversity makes for a full farming calendar. We enjoy having change in our working day,” Cath said.

Cath and Paul won this year’s Cawthron Farming Environment Award, impressing the judges with the amount of diversity on the farm. The way in which they use the land for suitable operations, from cropping and vineyards to sheep and beef farming, didn’t go unnoticed. Their biodiversity and tourism projects were other factors that prompted their win. Sevenoaks’ whole farming system works in harmony with nature and they have further plans to fence and clear waterways, continue to farm within their boundaries and improve the soil on farm.

“We really enjoyed the Cawthron Awards, as it was a great chance to share our story and our business with the community. Whilst it was a bit daunting, it was a challenge we both really enjoyed, and would certainly encourage other farmers to share their experiences.

We, as farmers, have a lot to share to the wider public of how we do things, what’s involved in growing food. There are a lot of rural good news stories to publicise. We both love farming and are optimistic about New Zealand’s farming future, and our ability to grow high-quality food that encompasses what our global customers need,” Cath concluded.