>>YOUNG HORTICULTURIST OF THE YEAR Hard work pays off for savvy horticulturalist
At a black-tie awards dinner at Auckand’s Grand Millennium Hotel in November, Gisborne microbiologist Shanna Hickling (25) was named winner of the 2017 competition ahead of three other competitors.
And while she netted a total prize package valued at over $13,500, the horticultural hot-ticket says the rewards were greater than that.
“I’ve definitely come away from the Young Horticulturist experience with some new friends,” she says. “But I got so much more out of it than that, from the chance to develop new skills to establishing some really interesting and exciting contacts.”
Growing up at The Falls – her parents’ sheep and beef station at Rere, just 50 kilometres north-west of Gisborne – Ms Hickling went to nearby Rere School until year 8 when she went to board at Hawke’s Bay’s Woodford House.
But that didn’t let her off the hook at home, she says.
“Mum and dad would save all the big jobs for us so every holidays we would be docking, drenching, whatever had to be done,” she says of the home life experienced by the three Hickling sisters – Shanna, interior architect Lauren (27), and school teacher Jasmine (22).
“But though it was really hard work, I wouldn’t change that for anything. It made me really independent and willing to take on anything in life. And having to guide workers like the WWOOFers that often stayed on the farm helped me develop some leadership skills pretty early on.”
Because of that environment she had hoped to train as a vet: “I absolutely love animals and that’s what made me focus on sciences in the first place.”
But competition was tough and she didn’t get through to further training. Undeterred, Ms Hickling doubled down to continue to achieve top marks – in the top five percent – in her degree in microbiology and genetics.
“I did stats, too which has really taken me a long way in my work . . . I even used it to create a spreadsheet to work out the payment schedule for my home loan,” says the self-confessed nerd.
And that came in handy during the young horticulturist event, when entrants were challenged to study a business case and work out the costs and benefits, feasibility, and the best way to progress the fictional business.
“I might even have picked up some income streams that the designer of the exercise hadn’t envisaged,” she laughs. “You never know what you are going to find when you burrow right down.”
Back at university, though, upon completing her studies at the end of 2013 Ms Hickling had two options on offer. On the one hand, she had earned a scholarship so she could undertake post-graduate study; on the other, a chance meeting at a Gisborne dentist had secured her an interview with Riversun Nursery founding director Geoff Thorpe who, he says, “decided to move heaven and earth” to get her on board.
So in typical style, she did both, starting work at Riversun the day after she interviewed and, with the company’s support, doing post-graduate study in project management.
That turned out to be the right call, she says, “knowing the best way to go about things really helped my research and development skills”.
When she started, Mr Thorpe had carved out a position for her as a research and development assistant across both Riversun and its testing and research arm Linnaeus Laboratory, and within a year she was running the lab where she and five staff focused on ELISA and PCR testing, microbiology diagnostics, and research and development.