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Small but mighty vegetable growers – the backbone of Waikato’s vegetable supply

Growers of novel vegetables and humble family-run businesses hold a certain prominence in Waikato's supply of local, fresh vegetables. Only a few kilometers away from Hamilton, on Horotiu Road in the Waikato, sits a humble family-run vegetable growing business, Te Kowhai Gardens, that has been operating since 1964.

Donald Sam, a second-generation grower, oversees the operation. He comes from a well-known market gardening family which, for many years, owned and ran the gardens on 'Chinaman's Hill' at Glenview – a landmark on SH3 just out of Hamilton. Donald's parents bought 30 acres at Te Kowhai about 60 years ago, just when Donald was born.

"I've been out here all my life," Donald says. "I bought the place off Mum and Dad. Originally we supplied the wholesale vegetable market, but about 20 years ago, we put in a shop and started to supply ourselves as well and cater to the demand from Chinese and Indian restaurants."

Today, Te Kowhai Gardens has expanded to grow a wide range of vegetable crops with the aim of supplying the market year-round with a slant to Asian cuisine. Brassicas, including Shanghai bok choy, pak choy, and daikon radishes, along with six different varieties of mustard – including gai choy, the variety with the spiciest flavor.

"We pick these early when it turns into a leafy vegetable with a bit of a heart, which is very popular with Cambodian and Vietnamese communities for pickling."

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