The Orchardist - - Front Page - By Glenys Chris­tian

Young hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ists have a lot to of­fer their in­dus­try in pos­i­tively sell­ing its sto­ries and con­nect­ing with con­sumers.

Young peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing the hor­ti­cul­tural in­dus­try can im­prove its brand value, ac­cord­ing to Ber­na­dine Guilleux, elected to the Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand board at 36 years old this June.

“Youth have nat­u­ral en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm,” she said.

“Put peo­ple like Young Hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist of the Year con­tes­tants more at the fore­front.”

Not only were they of­ten more pub­lic re­la­tions savvy, they could pro­vide in­spi­ra­tion to stu­dents in schools, demon­strat­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties the in­dus­try of­fered. The stress of ur­ban liv­ing cou­pled with present health trends could make mov­ing to the re­gions and grow­ing food from the land a cool op­por­tu­nity for younger peo­ple.

“The tech in­dus­tries in the 1990s weren’t at­trac­tive to work in, but look at their im­age now,” Ber­na­dine said.

She’s the third child of six chil­dren of Jim Balle, who is the sec­ond of seven brothers mak­ing up the well known Pukekohe grow­ing fam­ily, Balle Brothers. And she had an early and very hands-on in­tro­duc­tion to the in­dus­try, with many sum­mer hol­i­days spent on farm and in the pack house help­ing out.

She didn’t have a con­cept of how she would fit in to the fam­ily busi­ness in those early days.

“My pas­sion was eco­nom­ics and I al­ways wanted to live over­seas,” she said.

So she com­bined both, af­ter com­plet­ing a Bach­e­lor of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness from the Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy (AUT), trav­el­ling first to Hun­gary and then to France where she com­pleted bach­e­lor’s de­gree in so­ci­ol­ogy, a Post Grad­u­ate Di­ploma in Man­age­ment. Spe­cial­is­ing in mar­ket­ing came with a master’s de­gree in strate­gic mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

She then worked in con­sumer in­sight con­sult­ing in var­i­ous sec­tors across Europe, in­clud­ing car man­u­fac­tur­ing, lux­ury goods and fast mov­ing con­sumer goods (FMCG) re­tail­ing. One of her roles was lob­by­ing for car com­pany, Nis­san, which was at the time nav­i­gat­ing its way through an up­surge in the Euro­pean Union’s en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion, par­tic­u­larly around en­gine emis­sions and re­cy­cling.

She met hus­band, Alex, through a friend who worked with him, and when the time came to start a fam­ily the pull was strong to give them a Kiwi-style up­bring­ing.

“New Zealand pro­vides a very cre­ative and pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment for chil­dren to grow up in,” she said.

Then came the op­por­tu­nity to move when Alex, now a part­ner with PWC, was able to trans­fer to the com­pany’s Auck­land of­fice, so she ac­tu­ally fol­lowed him back home.They now live in Auck­land and have three boys;Theo, eight, Jules, six

and Emile, two.

Her tal­ents were soon put to work in the fam­ily busi­ness, first as ac­counts man­ager for the South East Asia re­gion then as mar­ket­ing man­ager.

“New Zealan­ders want to know where their food comes from,” she said.

“Con­sumers them­selves are try­ing to cut out the mid­dle­man so grow­ers need to be avail­able to have the con­ver­sa­tions. Health-fo­cused food prod­ucts are part of a global mega trend and this is bring­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles to the front of con­sumers’ minds.”

The key to mov­ing veg­eta­bles up­mar­ket was di­rect con­tact with cus­tomers and that’s of­ten through pack­ag­ing.

“Cur­rently that’s how you tell your story,” she said.

And while there is an op­pos­ing trend against the use of too much pack­ag­ing, es­pe­cially if it’s not able to be re­cy­cled, she be­lieves the present sit­u­a­tion can evolve through care­ful use of plas­tics and im­proved tech­nol­ogy around ma­te­ri­als and waste streams.

“Peo­ple won’t nec­es­sar­ily look to in­crease their emo­tional con­nec­tion be­yond know­ing you’re there,” she said.

“But grow­ers will need to be mind­ful of their prac­tices to en­sure they stack up if put up to scru­tiny by the con­sumer.”

She also sees great po­ten­tial around start-up op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple in hor­ti­cul­ture, putting the tech model on the land to fill niche prod­uct mar­kets. In her case, shortly af­ter she re­turned to NZ, she and her dairy farm­ing sis­ter com­bined to de­sign and mar­ket or­ganic merino and cot­ton baby wraps and slings.

“The first three months for a baby are like be­ing in-utero,” she said.

“And Merino wool was be­ing pro­duced in NZ so we could have a very pos­i­tive take on that. We also ac­tively used so­cial me­dia to pro­mote them from the get-go.”

The re­sult was a win for their start-up com­pany, Nestling Lim­ited, which took out the Ru­ral Women New Zealand North Is­land En­ter­pris­ing Ru­ral Women Award in 2011. The judges said they were im­pressed by the women’s use of NZ ma­te­ri­als and their com­mit­ment to man­u­fac­tur­ing on­shore, as well as their in­no­va­tive de­signs, com­bin­ing mod­ern fab­rics and colours with tra­di­tional ways of wrap­ping and car­ry­ing ba­bies.

“Any start-up has its chal­lenges, but it was re­ally ex­cit­ing,” she said.

The com­pany has since been sold af­ter her sis­ter, Maria-Fe Rohrlach moved to Chile, but the wraps are still avail­able.

Ber­na­dine’s en­thu­si­asm for big pic­ture think­ing is what led her to gov­er­nance and pol­i­tics. She read­ily took up the sug­ges­tion of her un­cle, Dacey Balle, ear­lier this year to run for the Hor­ti­cul­ture NZ board.

“I’m an op­ti­mist and I like see­ing change,” she said.

While a lot is achieved through evo­lu­tion, the magic hap­pens with the right tim­ing, she said.

“It’s all about be­ing open and seiz­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties as they come.”

In her case she was well aware of how she dif­fered from other board can­di­dates in this year’s elec­tion process.

“I have a dif­fer­ent skillset and per­spec­tive,” she said.

“And I was con­fi­dent of what I could bring to the ta­ble.”

She told grow­ers they should be wary of fall­ing short by con­tent­ing them­selves with hor­ti­cul­ture’s quiet achiever la­bel.

“Shout­ing from the rooftops is not the so­lu­tion. Earn­ing true en­gage­ment from our key stake­hold­ers, NZ cit­i­zens, is what will get us there.

“Ev­ery sin­gle New Zealan­der is in­volved in our in­dus­try ev­ery time they con­sume a NZ-grown fruit or veg­etable. I want to see us har­ness this con­nec­tion and be­come the achiever that NZ is proud of.”

So far she said ev­ery­one she’s met at the HortNZ Con­fer­ence as well as at grower and board meet­ings has been very pos­i­tive. And that sits well with her wider aim whilst sit­ting on the HortNZ board of lift­ing the pro­file of NZ grow­ers with that same pos­i­tiv­ity.

This is despite some big con­cerns which lie ahead which she lists as biose­cu­rity threats, re­tain­ing the so­cial li­cense to farm and re­tain­ing grow­ers’ ac­cess to the vi­tal re­sources of wa­ter and land.

“There are en­vi­ron­men­tal pres­sures but how can we pro­duce fruit and veg­eta­bles within the pa­ram­e­ters of lo­cal and na­tional gov­ern­ment poli­cies?”

She be­lieves hor­ti­cul­ture al­ways needs to be on the front foot, look­ing to fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties rather than present day de­trac­tions.

“We need to con­nect with con­sumers and tell them that do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion of veg­eta­bles is vi­tal un­less they want to eat im­ported food,” she said.

“And we have to have the re­sources to do that for NZ’s pop­u­la­tion. Qual­ity of life is a fo­cus for many New Zealand con­sumers and lo­cally pro­duced food is so im­por­tant for that.”

She be­lieves more public­ity of this is re­quired to get the sup­port of the com­mu­ni­ties sur­round­ing grow­ers’ farms, so they don’t suf­fer the un­for­tu­nate flak dairy farm­ers have re­cently re­ceived. And she points to the dis­con­nec­tion now seen be­tween milk found in the fridge and its on-farm ori­gins.

“It’s all about ed­u­cat­ing on the sim­ple fact that to have good, whole foods, you need some­where to pro­duce them by some­one who gets up ev­ery morn­ing to do so,” she said.

In­dus­try bod­ies needed to shift the pub­lic’s per­cep­tion of grow­ers away from profit-mak­ing en­ti­ties as it’s of­ten been in the past, to fo­cus­ing on the ben­e­fit these busi­nesses pro­vide to

the com­mu­nity, she be­lieves.

Re­tain­ing the re­sources re­quired in NZ also needs to be bal­anced up against the ex­port earn­ings hor­ti­cul­tural pro­duc­tion brings into the coun­try.

And when it comes to the ef­fect ur­ban sprawl is hav­ing on ar­eas such as Pukekohe she be­lieves in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ment is cru­cial.

“The more peo­ple you have in one place the more re­sources they will have ac­cess to.”

Build­ing up in ur­ban Auck­land rather than out to the fringes of the city is one an­swer.

“And bet­ter pub­lic trans­port is a no-brainer.”

She works from Balle Brothers’ pack house out of Pukekohe, at its East Ta­maki branch or re­motely from home, and points to the trend in large cities over­seas where staff have weekly re­mote work­ing days so they can al­le­vi­ate the stress of traf­fic con­ges­tion, and bal­ance the needs of their ca­reers with their own per­sonal en­deav­ours, in­clud­ing hav­ing a fam­ily.

“It’s a real op­por­tu­nity for our gen­er­a­tion.”

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