Recently we took a staff trip to Common Property, the farm owned by the founders of Commonsense Organics. On that trip we realised how far Commonsense has come and yet how close it still is to its roots. Jim and Marion still own that land and have built it up into a successful organic farm, our team has grown and developed while still being led by the same values, and we've just opened our fifth store. 2013 is an exciting year indeed.
Staff visit the farm where Commonsense Organics started
38 years of Common Property
Common Property has grown from a group-owned co-op of bare land in 1975 to a flourishing organic farm filled with life and food. When Jim and Marion made the purchase along with several other families they dreamed of a healthy, productive farm but were faced with acres of barren fields after dairy farmers had ripped out the trees.
One of the first things to go up were shelter belts and Marion and the other women were determined to use native plants. "Jim thought we were mad - all the men did. So we [the women] did the work and planted them ourselves". Now there are hundreds of established native trees with native birds nesting in them. Piwakawaka (fantails) flit in and out, making hairpin turns in the air to capture the insects which are present in this healthy natural ecosystem.
Over the years they established the farm, started the store and eventually covered their costs. Jim led the store in those early days and was glad when it began to pay off. "After five years we broke even for the first time. We went out to dinner. It was nice."
Jim and Marion still own Common Property but they now lease the land and their buildings and equipment out to several small businesses in return for upkeep of the equipment and the assurance of organic products and methods. Our famous salad mix comes from this land, as do our seedlings, and many of our fruit and vegetables care of farm manager Sean. The farm was one of the first in the country to be certified organic by BioGro and is run on planting systems which encourage natural balance (such as phacelia which attracts ladybirds to keep aphids away), crop rotation, and non-soluble rock fertilisers in place of soluble chemical fertilisers which leach into the water table.
Farm Manager Sean
Why? Because "It's something worth doing", says Jim. The farm encourages the environment rather than destroying it, it enriches the land rather than leaving it barren, and it creates healthy and safe food which tastes fantastic.
The Commonsense team then and now
In the beginning it was pretty much just Jim. Marion continued her day job to keep money coming in and fund the half-way house they ran, and after spending his initial adult years as a priest Jim was trying to work out what this retail thing was all about. One day he got the produce looking beautiful and drew people into the store. As he completed a pyramid of oranges an impressed new customer reached to take one and Jim yelled "Don't touch that! I just put those there!" We refer to this as the 'John Cleese' model of customer service. So, we hired staff...
Auckland Mt Eden store manager Michael getting excited about feijoas (who wouldn't?)
Now the Commonsense team numbers 105 and we have people from all over the world including Colombia, Ethiopia, Ireland, England, America, India, China, Fiji, the Sudan, Australia, and Sweden. Over a dozen languages could be spoken in our staff rooms. We have two generations on the crew and little people from the third generation popping in to visit. We have had mighty sports teams and even mightier potlucks.
We work for a store that believes in organics, fair trade and safe products. And we have one thing in common: we believe "It's something worth doing".
Opening our fifth store in Johnsonville
Our flagship store has always been based in central Wellington but as information about health and food safety (and taste - never forget taste!) has spread we have answered demand for stores further afield. In 2002 we opened in Lower Hutt, 2003 in Paparaumu, 2006 in Kilbirnie and in 2011 we developed our online delivery store.
July 2013 saw the opening of our store in the Jonhnsonville shopping precinct, and in 2015 we opened our first Auckland store too! Contact details and opening hours can be found here.
Thanks for supporting us so far, and helping us support a healthy planet and ethical trading while you get delicious and nutritious food. We're so glad you agree it's worth doing.