Heirloomacy

After many years working in international fast moving consumer brands, in 2020 Gavin Pook turned his third-generation green fingers back to the family business growing heirloom tomatoes in west Auckland. With his grandfather’s 1939 Ford V8 pick-up truck in tow, Heirloomacy is on a new mission to grow unique and specialty vegetables for New Zealanders.

Heirloomacy is a large-scale hydroponic produce operation based in Waimauku, West Auckland, with a focus on growing heirloom fruit and vegetable seeds. First established by Gavin’s grandfather Peter in 1968, his father Malcolm left high school at 14 to take over the business. Back then they grew everything, and Gavin would help during school holidays. As an ambitious 13-year-old in the eighties, he did his homework, then proceeded to grow hundreds of kilograms of gherkins, making $27,000 – enough to buy his first car.

After university, Gavin followed the corporate route as CEO of Red Bull New Zealand for over five years. Whilst abroad on work trips he would often enjoy the beautifully quirky tomatoes in places like Barcelona, Paris and Peru.

 

Why heirloom?

Last year, following his father’s retirement, Gavin returned to the growing game but was determined to do things a little differently. With his tenacity and global marketing experience, he’s taken the business down a more artisan and customer-led approach. Seeking advice from chefs and consumers about which varieties they struggle to access, they now focus on lesser known, more difficult to grow varieties.

There’s been huge interest in specialty heirloom tomatoes, and over the past two to three years they’ve worked with Bidfresh to focus on heeding this demand. To be considered an heirloom, the seeds must be traced back at least 100 years. Some of the varietals Heirloomacy grow were handed down from his grandad, and others have French, Spanish, Italian or South American origins.

 

Varietals

The Waimauku Green, the current market favourite, is a Spanish tomato with a distinctive light green skin featuring dark green zebra-like stripes and a vibrant green interior. Chefs love their crisp, bitter, mildly acidic yet full-flavoured nature and the fact that it retains its colour when cooked.

Indigo Rose – Gavin’s personal favourite – is a South American heirloom, notoriously hard to grow and harvest. When on the vine it sports a black (or deep purple) cape to protect itself from birds and insects, but once picked, within 24 hours this dark shade recedes to unveil hues of yellow, magenta and purple. Its flesh is firm, with a slightly sweet, acidic flavour.

Doing things differently

Heirloomacy prides itself on being sustainable and environmentally conscious; their own dam captures rainwater and undergoes an in-house purifying treatment, using UV and osmosis. Within their twin door greenhouses, the produce is fed only organic nutrients with no synthetics or sprays. To support the “farm to plate” model, you’ll often find Gavin delivering direct to restaurants himself.

Well known Auckland chef Michael Meredith of Mr Morris encouraged Gavin to grow tomatillos, a popular Mexican nightshade. These tart little green gems are enrobed in a husk and will be available through Bidfresh from the end of September.

Bidfresh are their biggest customer, and Heirloomacy provide stock to branches across the country. Due to the fickle nature of growing heirlooms, what they attempt to do on a commercial scale is considered by many as crazy, or lunacy – a term that inspired the brand Heirloomacy.

 

Looking ahead

Gavin has a strong ambition to keep listening to the market and find niches for sought-after ingredients that are less available in New Zealand. They’re currently growing feisty habanero chillies, small green Spanish Padrón peppers, the sweet and vividly red Italian Corno di Toro or ‘Bull’s Horn’ shaped peppers and are working to meet the enduring demand for locally grown jalapeños.

Enamoured by nature’s engineering, their latest challenge is a tiny, pure white, teardrop-shaped ‘fairy tale’ eggplant, which we can all look forward to seeing as the Heirloomacy story unfolds.