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NOBLE BY NAME & NATURE
Posted On: 2016-09-04 08:52:50
He's the Onion Man. & although he doesn't grow onions, he certainly knows his onions.
Because he's been market gardening for half a century.
50 years is a lot of cabbages.
50 years is a lot of cabbages.
Allan Noble doesn't grow potatoes either.
But he travelled 11,000 kilometres to a potato conference in China.
“I'm interested in what goes on. I am interested in horticulture &I follow my interests,” says Allan.
& spuds are this vegetable grower's favourite. “Very near the complete food.”
Allan's the Onion & Vege Man at the Onion Vegie Place.
That's what the sign says, just beyond the hawthorn hedge & about one well-lobbed Brussels sprout east of the Katikati town limit.
Seventy-two years old, always a glint in the eye, always a smile primed, always a laugh waiting to be laughed – Allan Noble has an opinion on everything from education & biosecurity to the regulatory obsolescence & the information highway.
“Mr Google has made life too easy,” says Allan.
“We should be teaching kids to challenge information.”
& this reporter only dropped in for a cabbage.
Which is all very interesting because the Onion Man, Allan Noble, is dyslexic.
When he uses the telephone book he can never get the right person to answer the phone.
“But I am a listener & a thinker.”
He has time, too much time, to formulate his thoughts driving up & down the rows on one of his 14 tractors, or is it 15?
It's vege ‘Smash Palace'. Why does a man need so many tractors?
“At least 10 of them go & new tractors won't do what old ones do. We will cannibalise a tractor to get another to do what we want it to do.”
Allan was born with soil behind his finger nails. “Started driving tractors when I was seven or eight.
That's when I got interested.
“I wake up & smile.”
But with a healthy cynicism.
“I think there is another day out there & I can go mess it up like everyone else.”
He doesn't grow onions or potatoes but he does grow kale & he's almost apologetic, a sop to foodie fashion perhaps.
“People want it I guess.”
But only people.
Because after Allan has harvested the kale, cabbages & broccoli – & the cows have been put in to eat the scraps – kale is the last thing they eat.
“Animals know what they like & they don't like kale.”
If Allan's cows are the litmus test for vege trends then it's udders up to silverbeet.
“If there's silverbeet, the cows will eat that first – almost below ground level.”
Why's it becoming fashionable again?
But of course the mere sniff of a demand is reason enough to grow the stuff.
“He's simply the loveliest of men.”
An unsolicited shout-out for the boss from the hired hand, the lady in the Onion & Vegie Place Shop.
“He never has a day off.”
Well he did have a day off recently.
He went to the annual farming & agricultural trade show – Fieldays.
But that's work, that's research.
“Yes, could be. But it was interesting.”
Does he ever stop to read a book, watch TV or have a beer? “I basically don't bother doing that.”
Does he work Christmas Day & Good Friday?
“It's surprising what has to be done these days.”
Does that make his wife long-suffering? – Tilling the soil for half a century, no days off & reading up on potatoes & the like over dinner.
“Not at all.”
We might ask the Onion Lady about that.
Allan learned a lesson many years ago.
“Why sit on a beach & have a picnic when you hate beaches & picnics?
It's just to keep the travel agent happy.”
So he keeps working, it's what he does & what he enjoys.
The hired hand is running the Onion & Vegie Place shop for a trickle of customers on a soggy Sunday afternoon.
Off State Highway 2, up the winding drive, past a tractor for sale & 20 or so crates of pumpkins. Two for $3 or the like.
Well it sells stuff, good stuff, great stuff.
A lot of it grown just outside the ramshackle, or is it a rustic shop – a conglomeration of buildings prettied up & held together by oodles of country charm?
Stocked with fruit & vegetables from all points.
If the Kumara comes from Ruawai the price tag tells you.
Well the photo of the shop assistant on the price tag tells you. Very personal, very quaint, nice touch.
But it works.
It's an experience, a good fun place to fossick for parsnips & potatoes, kumara & “bloody” kale, chutney & jam.
It's a retail experience.
Nothing flash, nothing branded, very un-supermarket.
All around there are implements, machines, vehicles, tools, bins, boxes crates & pallets.
Stuff – lots of stuff, charming stuff.
It's retail entertainment.
This is as close to pulling veges out of the ground without actually doing it.
Like when the lady wanted radishes Allan went out & dug her a bunch or two.
New-fangled, big, fat purple spicy radishes at a snip.
Braise them, this reporter was told.
Just across the yard from the shop, past an implement shed crammed with ‘things' a man needs to be a market gardener, is Allan's tool shed.
There is chaos in this shed, so how does he find things?
“Simple, you just have to remember where you had it last.”
Sophie Gray's ‘Destitute Gourmet' tells us to avoid the supermarket when buying fruit & vegetables – “they are invariably cheaper in a produce specialist shop”.
Of course you won't get an argument out of Allan on that one.
“Supermarkets are better suited to pre-packaged, standardised.
When you look at the constraints of vegetables they aren't really suited to the supermarket model.
But that's where their money is made.”
So how does he compete with the monolithic, all-powerful chains? There's that grin again.
“Well there will always be a lot of people who appreciate there is a difference between appearing fresh & being fresh.”
By the way, the Onion Man who doesn't grow onions does grow green onions.
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