If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Or in the case of this Hakataramea Valley farm, if it ain’t broke - think bigger and think differently.
South Canterbury farmers Liz and Andy Hayes are the sixth generation to farm their beautiful part of the country, and it’s gone through several evolutions over the years (including a conversion from beef and sheep to dairy in 2013) and the latest one was their way of holding on to their farming past, but expanding into different, more adventurous territory.
It was partly driven by a love for storybook fantastical fun, partly from a desire for diversification and partly them just extending a rural welcome - it was the Hayes’ way of opening their farm for others to enjoy.
Built among the pine forest that Andy planted with his father 30 years ago, the Nest Treehouse looks out on a view that inspired the whole project. After returning from their overseas travels, the couple looked out across their farm and realised it was unlike anything they had seen around the world and knew they wanted to share it.
Their Hakataramea Valley farm has been in Andy’s family since 1878, but it has seen a lot of change in the twelve years since he and Liz took over. Andy explained that when he returned to the farm from university, there were very few young people farming.
When they compare that to now, he says there is a lot of positive change happening, “the way we think about farming is completely different now”. And it’s that thinking which inspired the Treehouse - a kind of ‘tiny home’ with a twist.
They’re dairy farmers first and foremost, and that hasn’t changed, but the couple have always been driven by the prospects of diversifying, and they aren’t the only ones. Nearby farms have also started diversifying their work, with things on offer like bike tracks, farm-stays, guided tours and crafts.
When asked if they would recommend a project like this to other farmers, Andy explains, “it takes a lot of hard work, but to breathe new life into the farm, and to see people from all over the country enjoying the beauty of rural New Zealand is something really special”. Liz says, “as someone from the city myself, I think that anything that brings people from urban areas out to the farms is a great step forward”.
Agritourism is becoming increasingly popular, but Liz believes that dairy farming deserves some time in the spotlight. Once the treehouse is more established, the couple are looking to offer farm tours to visitors, “We’d love to take them around the farm and teach them a bit about dairy farming – they can see that it’s not just the negative parts that are in the news. They could even milk the cows if they wanted!”
Working with Fonterra has opened doors to the diversification that Liz and Andy have been after, “Our farm has grown fast, and it has allowed us to pursue rich and colourful opportunities,” says Liz.