Rural profile: Franklin Farm

By: Lisa Potter


45B05367 14EC 47C7 A480 3E96FABDF298 Photoshoots in the sunflower field are popular with all ages 45B05367 14EC 47C7 A480 3E96FABDF298
IMG 0009 Sunflower-themed activities include painting groups IMG 0009
IMG 0920 Some of the Franklin Farm’s team IMG 0920

Multi-generational farmers, Luke and Jasmine Franklin's epic sunflower fields at Franklin Farm are open for private bookings and to the public over summer


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The Franklin family are proud multi-generation produce farmers

Based at Waimauku, the Franklin family has been growing celery for 118 years, a tradition that fifth-generation growers Luke and Jasmine continue with pride. With four generations of the Franklin family still living and working on the farm, that family legacy is strong and robust.

The young couple and their two children (Saskia and Arlo) have been spending most of this year so far surrounded by the brightly bobbing heads of an estimated million and a half sunflowers, planted over seven acres of prime celery land used to help add diversity to soil biology and structure. A side benefit is the opportunity to share this unique setting with the public, who love to experience the sunflower fields and capture the moments with photographs.

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@pawsinline was one of the many private photo sessions booked in the Franklin Farm sunflower fields

From yoga in the sunflowers to painting classes and picnics and even a sunflower maze, the fields are available midweek for private booked sessions, open for Doggy Fridays from 5pm, and to the public from 8am to sunset. Luke and Jasmine have special props dotted around the sunflower fields — a huge drawcard for those wanting to capture a special moment.

"The biggest satisfaction is the happiness it brings to so many people from all walks of life. Everyone smiles when they walk in the gate and see them.The 2024 season has been a resounding success and brings with it feelings of relief and gratitude given that the entire 2023 crop of sunflowers was damaged by gale-force winds and rain in December and January and was completely destroyed just as it was starting to flower, by Cyclone Gabrielle in February.
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Luke and Jasmine Franklin

"The weather poses one of the biggest challenges, from timing sowing right for germination, then the right weather conditions required to get the sunflowers to maturity. For example, just one day of high winds can knock them around pretty badly. Then timing open days around a best guess as to when they’ll be in full bloom and hoping it will be sunny too. It’s definitely risky business and part luck too.

Once sunflower season is over, the paddocks are planted in celery again and the cycle of Franklin Farm continues.

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Franklin Farm sunflower fields

"Sunflowers are definitely one of our favourite cover crops," says Jasmine. "As hyperaccumulators, they help take up toxins and detox the soil and also have a high capacity for carbon sequestration, so they’re much more than just a pretty face."

"The plants draw carbon from the atmosphere (in the form of carbon dioxide) and convert it (via photosynthesis) into carbohydrates and sugars, which are released (via its roots) to all the wonderful microbes in the soil, in exchange for other nutrients it needs.

"This symbiotic relationship benefits everyone — the sunflowers, the soil microbes, and the more microbiology we have in the soil, the more it benefits us. Everything starts with the soil, and the more your soil is alive and teaming with microbes, the better.

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Scenic sunflower views

"Sunflowers offer an abundant source of food for bees and other insects, such as butterflies, wasps, and birds. Their nectar is the main ingredient for honey. Additionally, their pollen contains protein and provides energy for bees and provides the birds with a tonne of seeds for weeks on end. Although there are pollen-less varieties of sunflowers and some may deem them more attractive (think the black centre ones), we prefer to use the pollen varieties for all the reasons above.

"Growing sunflowers also helps to naturally aerate the soil, thanks to those big tap roots that dig down deep, penetrating and breaking up heavy clumps of soil along the way. As a result, it also encourages rainwater to infiltrate more deeply.

"And as a bonus, they are super pretty and bring so much happiness to everyone who comes to visit us.

"Once we’re all finished with the sunflowers for the season, we return them to the soil via a tractor and hoe, returning lots of organic mulch and material to our growing soils. And then a few months later, we will plant celery in them, and the cycle continues."

The juice on celery growing

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Franklin Farms has evolved through five generations of Franklin family, always with a focus on growing NZ celery

The Franklin farm legacy began with Sid Franklin when he first started growing celery in 1906 in Mt Roskill, Auckland.

As more members of the family joined the endeavour (from 1914: Albert Franklin, followed by Ernest and Ron Franklin), the business expanded to also grow a variety of other vegetables, resulting in owning and operating a handful of fruit and vegetable shops in Mt Roskill, Three Kings, and Queen Street. 

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Fresh Franklin celery destined for the shelves

At this stage, produce was transported to and from the market by horse and cart. This exercise took about three hours each way (sometimes longer, thanks to a horse that didn’t want to be caught each morning). Horse and cart was used to transport celery for 15 years, until the first truck was brought in the 1920s, making this side of the business a tad easier. .

With urban sprawl creeping in, in 1961, the family had different ideas about what to do, so the cousins went their own ways. Third-generation Graham (son of Ron) and his wife Lucy moved the business to Waimauku, starting afresh with only a bare paddock and a caravan.

With much persistence and hard work, the couple built a home and a packing shed and acquired surrounding land to expand their growing business. Son Alan (fourth generation) joined the business at just 16 years old and was shortly joined by his wife Monique.

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Luke Franklin continuing the family legacy

In 2004, Luke (fifth generation) started working for the business full-time when he was 17, and in 2020, he and wife Jasmine bought Franklin Farm. Their children Saskia and Arlo are now the sixth generation of Franklin growers and already help with harvesting and packing.  ​

"It’s extremely hard work," says Luke, "but the positives of working together and supporting one another definitely outweigh the hard times.

"We love including the kids at work, teaching them about growing and helping them develop a healthy work ethic from an early age." 

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Jasmine and Saskia, who represents the sixth-generation of Franklin on the farm

Luke and Jasmine bring a fresh focus around regenerative growing practices and consistently aim to improve and nurture soil health.

"We also use solar power to run the coolstore, packhouse, and workshop and where we can we lead with sustainable practices," says Jasmine.

While the business today operates across 70 acres, celery remains the focus with the business producing 1200 cases each week. Sheep also graze the paddocks, and some is used for water storage.

During sweetcorn season, a small amount of spray-free corn is sold through their website (franklinfarm.nz) for delivery or pickup on the farm.

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Fresh Franklin celery destined for the shelves

"Fresh, spray-free food is important to our family, and we hand weed our sweetcorn to prevent the use of herbicides and plastic ground covers. We plant our corn early too to beat the caterpillars (although the odd one creeps in — still a better option in our opinion than repeatedly spraying).

"Celery is grown year-round, with picking for the market taking place six days a week to provide fresh celery throughout New Zealand.

While the Franklin family has definitely cracked the secret of growing consistent, beautiful celery, they continue to innovate fresh ideas across the farm. One of these is planting sunflower fields to share with the public and help improve the soils at the same time.

"We’re also working hard behind the scenes planning new lines for the business, so watch this space," says Luke.   

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