Photographer, teacher and experimental farmer, Dick Roberts, is regarded as a leader of the organic and alternative lifestyle movement in New Zealand. He came from England to New Zealand in 1964, leaving behind the Cold War tensions of the time. Other members of the anti-nuclear Philia Group, Christopher Vine and Patrick McGrath also came to live in Nelson and encouraged Roberts in his endeavours. Roberts supported himself through an extensive nature photographic library that he built up during his travels, and provided images to clients all over the world, ranging from Encyclopaedia Britannica to lifestyle magazines. The library was sold and moved to Christchurch in 2004.
In 1967 Dick turned his attention to experimental farming when he bought 300 acres in Todd Valley, largely covered in gorse. Dick found a suitable productive tree crop for every different micro-climate he created on the hilly terrain and used sheep for pasture management. He divided land into very steep, moderately steep and flat areas. Hot, dry north facing slopes had drought resistant carobs, olives, cork oats and pine-nuts planted. South facing slopes had deciduous fruit trees and, on frost free slopes and spurs, sub tropical species began to flourish. Mountain pawpaws, many varieties of citrus, tamarillos, avocados, macadamia, loquat, pomegranate, strawberry guava plus lesser known varieties provide crops. Organically grown vegetables used the small amounts of flat land and the steepest land was planted in native bush and forestry crops, including pine, redwood, Douglas fir and eucalypts. He planted an average of 1000 trees a year for 30 years.
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Dick Roberts was very keen to pass on knowledge and always encouraged visitors . Some stayed and worked in exchange for their board and keep, as part of the WWOOFERs scheme (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). Over the years thousands of others came to look at what Dick had achieved on his challenging property and be inspired by what could be done.
Over the years Dick sold land off to converts to his style of living. The remainder of the farm was sold in 2004 (after the Nelson City Council turned down the offer of the property) and Dick moved to a small property in town. He died in 2009 and half of his estate was gifted to the community to be given to groups involved in encouraging environmental education, and an interest in science and research, particularly for children. The fund has contributed greatly to community planting schemes in Nelson, particularly the open orchards. The Dick Roberts Community Trust has given out over $500,000 since 2009 and expects to wind up by 2015.
Updated May 7, 2020
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Further sources - Dick Roberts
- Barnes, P. (1997, April 17) The Leader, p. 18
- Collett, G. (2000, May 3) Tree pioneer seeks to hand over baton. Nelson Mail, p.5
- A growing fascination (2002, Oct). New Zealand Growing Today,16(10), p.8-13
- Rewi, A. (1997, March 25) Man of nature, The Press, p.11
- Syms, M. (2009, Jun)Obituary : Dick Roberts 1925-2009. Tree Cropper, 58, p.35-36
- Titus, P. (2000, Dec) Photo synthesis, North and South, 177, p.32
- Interviews with:
Peter Grundy, Nelson City Council (2014)
Jan Fryer (2014)
Christopher Vine (2014)
- Conservation action - Earl Norriss and Marsden Valley. Retrieved from Smartstory, 17 March 2015:
- Microclimate. In A Permaculture Design Handbook. Retrieved 8 December, 2014, from TreeYo Permaculture:
- Roberts. G.R. (1993) Tree crops for every microclimate. New Zealand Journal of forestry, 38(1) pp.22–25