Farmer’s date in the cal­en­dar

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - FRONT PAGE - GE­OFF VAUSE

A Blen­heim fam­ily will star on one of the coun­try’s longestrun­ning tele­vi­sion shows this week­end.

Jono and Claire Bushell em­ploy more than 400 work­ers through their com­pany Vinepower to prune 8 mil­lion vines every win­ter in Marl­bor­ough.

Among them are work­ers from Van­u­atu through the govern­ment’s Recog­nised Sea­sonal Em­ployer work scheme.

A Coun­try Cal­en­dar tele­vi­sion crew has filmed the lat­est ven­ture to come out of Bushell’s contacts with Ni-Van­u­atu work­ers. It will air on Oc­to­ber 8.

The lat­est batch of work­ers had gone home, Bushell said, and many were from Am­bae, the is­land evac­u­ated re­cently be­cause of an ac­tive vol­cano.

‘‘We haven’t heard from them,’’ Bushell said.

‘‘They will be at an­other is­land called Santo with their fam­i­lies. They won’t have gone back to Am­bae.’’

When the Bushells vis­ited an­other re­mote Van­u­atu is­land, Tanna, on a staff re­cruit­ing trip some years back, they were struck by the beauty of the place, and also saw the dif­fi­cul­ties the lo­cals faced.

Most peo­ple could not af­ford to send their chil­dren to sec­ondary school be­cause free ed­u­ca­tion in Van­u­atu stopped at year 6. They could feed them­selves from the land but had no way to gen­er­ate cash for ed­u­ca­tion, med­i­cal ex­penses or build homes.

Bushell and his wife set up Tanna Farms to ex­tract or­gan­i­cally-grown co­conut oil, re­viv­ing plan­ta­tions fallen into dis­use years ago when the mar­ket for fresh co­conuts col­lapsed. The new ven­ture has cre­ated a steady stream of in­come that is flow­ing through the com­mu­nity.

The oil and a range of soaps and lip balms are al­ready ex­ported to New Zealand, and Tanna Farms were ex­pected to start ex­ports to Aus­tralia soon.

But in 2015, just weeks af­ter the first ship­ments were ready for mar­ket, Cy­clone Pam ham­mered Van­u­atu and both the fac­tory and co­conut mill were com­pletely de­stroyed.

While they were still reel­ing from the dev­as­ta­tion, Bushell and his busi­ness partners Ja­son Ken­nard and Seth Kau­rua, of Van­u­atu, de­cided the Tanna com­mu­nity needed them now more than ever, so they set about re­build­ing their bro­ken busi­ness.

Two years on and Tanna Farms is back up and run­ning and ex­pand­ing into peanuts and peanut but­ter, buy­ing raw pro­duce from vil­lages all over iso­lated Tanna Is­land.

‘‘We get a lot of joy work­ing here,’’ Bushell said. ‘‘We get a lot of sat­is­fac­tion giv­ing back to com­mu­ni­ties, see­ing the dif­fer­ences small things can make in peo­ple’s lives.’’

Bushell, Claire and their three school-age chil­dren - Jack, 13, Mil­lie, 12, and Joe, 8 - spent time liv­ing in Van­u­atu while Tanna Farms was get­ting set up and they cher­ish their time on the is­land.

Claire Bushell is pas­sion­ate about what they are do­ing in Van­u­atu.

‘‘You can see we’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and that mo­ti­vates us,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s a win-win for all par­ties and I re­ally love that part of it.’’


The Bushell fam­ily, from left, Mil­lie, 12, Claire Bushell, Jack, 13, Joe, 8, and Jono Bushell love spend­ing time on Tanna Is­land.

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