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Silver medal for Gisborne saffron grower

The world’s most expensive spice is behind a national award for a Gisborne grower.

Haley Heathwaite, the creative mind behind saffron growing and production company Ziggy Ardor, says a last-minute decision to enter the New Zealand Food Producers Awards was worth it in the end, as she won a silver medal in the earth products category for a unique Saffron Tawari Honey product.

“It wasn’t something I had considered at all, but was encouraged to do so by a customer and decided to give it a go.

“I only just got my entry in on time, so to win an award was a huge surprise and very encouraging.”

As saffron is a raw ingredient, Ms Heathwaite decided to send a saffron-infused Tawari honey product so the judges could taste, smell and see all that the saffron has to offer.

“Saffron is an ingredient many people are not familiar with, so I wanted to create a nice way to introduce the flavour to a familiar product.”

A Facebook post put Ms Heathwaite in touch with Gisborne beekeeper Michael Burt from Bee Box, who provided an introduction to Tawari honey.

“I loved it’s delicate flavour and the story around the Tawari tree, so decided it would be a perfect fit for Ziggy Ardor and a saffron blend.”

Ms Heathwaite says she ‘‘fell into’’ horticulture and growing saffron.

“I was working in Auckland at a rural supply store helping the horticulture adviser. After a few months I was offered the opportunity to become a horticultural technical adviser.

Ms Heathwaite began researching different and unique types of crops.

“I wanted to find something special and unique, and began researching saffron in 2015 and started growing two years later. It has since turned into a continuous labour of love.

“Saffron intrigued me. It’s a small plant, quite hardy and reasonably drought-tolerant.

“Processing the flowers is time-consuming but not hard and, once dehydrated, they can be stored for years in the right conditions.

'A high-value product'Saffron prefers cold winters and a warm dry summer, and has a reputation as a challenging crop to manage.

“Many people consider growing saffron difficult, but I thoroughly enjoy the whole process. It’s a beautiful crop to work with and in my eyes relatively low maintenance.”

“The fact it is a high-value product was a bonus.”

Ms Heathwaite moved to Gisborne in 2016 after a visit left her impressed.

“I really enjoyed the vibe and huge amount of horticulture in the area.

“I felt it would be a great place to live and the climate would suit growing saffron.”

She was offered a position at Corson Maize as an agronomist, breeding seed. Since then, she has been working full time to support the growth of the business and run it in her spare time.

“All of the planting, picking, processing, website building, branding and marketing I do myself,” she said.

The successes of her first small crop began to increase her vision.

Now the crop has expanded to approximately 40,000 corms and Ms Heathwaite aims to start employing people for the 2019 season.

While networking and promoting the business, she was introduced to Activate Tairawhiti business adviser Tui Babbington.

“Tui helped me through the process of applying for an Eastland Community Trust grant, which was approved. This will go towards expanding the business.

“I would like to explore the medicinal benefits of saffron and the grant will be a great kickstart to doing the necessary research and trials.”

Tui Babbington said Ziggy Ardor was exactly the type of small business they were hoping to support.

“Haley is a young, vibrant and enthusiastic grower, and has a willingness to learn more and build new capability within her business.

“She came to Activate in November and it has been a pleasure to watch and assist the growth of Ziggy Ardor.

“It is always satisfying to see local people using our service, as we are here to help however we can.”

Receiving the silver award among other success in the first year of business has been motivating for Ms Heathwaite.

“The competition took into consideration company values as well as the product produced, so this award has confirmed that I’m on the right track with my business as a whole.

“I have huge visions and plans for the next 5 years like introducing new crops and growing techniques alongside continuing to produce unique, high quality products and new combinations.”

The economic investigation and research fund is always open for applications and is aimed at supporting ground-breaking business ideas.To find out more, contact Eastland Community Trust.

Haley Heathwaite, owner and operator of Gisborne-based Ziggy Ardor which produces Saffron Tawari Honey from locally-grown and sourced products. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell