Farmer’s date in the calendar
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.