The couple behind Alexander Organics, Jesiah and Ellen Alexander, have a shared passion for the more natural life. These dedicated and focused 24-year-olds already have a wealth of knowledge about organic and sustainable farming, and a thirst for further knowledge and education in this field.
These childhood sweethearts married in 2014. Jesiah had been brought up on a dairy farm, and worked for six years with Ellen’s grandad on a conventional dairy farm in Cambridge, with Ellen helping out.
“We are both very health-conscious, and an idea started forming in the back of our minds,” says Jesiah.
“We both liked the idea of owning our own organic herd and selling raw milk, fruit and other products on a small scale from our own property,” says Ellen.
Their dream was realised in 2016, and the couple are grateful for the opportunity to lease 50ha from Ellen’s grandad’s Cambridge property on “family terms”.
The Alexander Organics property is certified to the NZ and overseas organic markets.
“You don’t just take a conventional plaster off and stick on an organic one. It’s a whole philosophy,” says Jesiah.
The soil is fertilised with organic quality-brewed seaweed, and compost, either as organic matter or sprayed on as a tea. Anything applied to the land or animals must be compliant with each organic market. Alexander Organics adheres to the NZ Domestic, European Union, and United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program organic standards.
The cows are 100 per cent pasture-fed. The Alexanders never plant just one pasture crop, but stitch in several grass species combined with different herbs. Buttercups and docks are left to enrich the cows’ diets, but weeds such as blackberry, gorse and ragwort are painstakingly grubbed out by hand.
“Our pasture is very diverse, with different minerals being brought up by the varying root depths of the individual plant species,” says Ellen.
“The soil has a wealth of good bacteria, fungi and nematodes, all working in their own ecosystems, leaving little room for anything bad to take a hold,” says Jesiah.
Small numbers of chickens, ducks and sheep also add to the diversity on the land.
Hundreds of fruit trees have been planted, lining the races as fodder, which the cows are allowed to nibble on their way to and from the shed. A small orchard has also been planted from which the fruit will be sold in The Shop in future.
Jesiah and Ellen bought their own herd of Dairy Shorthorns for their land. The breed is known for its hardiness, and good resilience to disease.
The couple are looking to expand the 60-strong, individually-named herd, to 100, using selective breeding to introduce traits they want within their herd.
The cows’ 100 per cent pasture diet is supplemented by organic apple cider vinegar, and brewed seaweed in their drinking water, aiming to aid a good immune system.
“If one of the animals gets sick, of course they receive whatever treatment is required,” says Jesiah. “If a non-organic treatment needs to be used, the cow has to be removed from the organic herd after that.”
Only 13 of the cows are used for the raw milk collection, and the process around their milking is of a very high standard. A full alkali wash of all the milking equipment in the 20-aside herringbone shed takes place prior to milking, on a daily basis.
“We also hand-wash each individual teat, strip the foremilk by hand, sanitise the teats, and dry with a single use paper towel. Then we attach the cups and start milking,” says Jesiah.
“The process is time-consuming but we take safety precautions prior to milking, rather than needing to process the milk after,” says Ellen.
The resulting sweet and smooth raw milk is full of nutritional goodness and piped into 200L vats, which are immediately put in the chiller of the on-site shop. Two very retro-looking DF Italia, self- service, dispensing machines set in a wall are a real hit with loyal, local customers.
The remainder of the organic herd is milked after the raw milk herd, and the milk is collected by a local factory.
“In the future we are excited to be joining The Organic Dairy hub, a New Zealand co-op that really supports and encourages organic farmers,” says Jesiah.
The Alexander’s milk will be collected for organic milk, cream, cheeses and other organic dairy products, catering for the growing organic niche market.
Ellen and Jesiah work very hard on their farm, milking twice-a-day, and as a result are very much in tune with the land, and their animals, constantly noticing small changes around them.
They see the farm as a lifetime project, and are constantly improving it, aiming to leave it better for the next generation.