NEW LIFE FOR NURS­ERY­MAN

The Orchardist - - Front Page - By Kris­tine Walsh

Af­ter a var­ied ca­reer an Ital­ian im­mi­grant has re­turned to what his fam­ily has done well for cen­turies.

When he em­i­grated from Italy to New Zealand Giuseppe Martelli brought with him two cru­cial pieces of home – a huge con­tainer-load of tun­nel houses and a bright or­ange Fiat Bam­bina.

“The car was a wed­ding gift for my par­ents when they mar­ried in 1972. She is my baby, so she had to come,” said the newly-minted cit­i­zen.

“The tun­nel houses? Well, this is what I know, I grow things.”

And grow things he does, as well as help­ing oth­ers grow things by pro­vid­ing them with healthy, ro­bust young trees.

At two years old, his Taruheru Nurs­ery in Gis­borne, is one of just a hand­ful of mem­bers of the New Zealand Avo­cado Nurs­ery As­so­ci­a­tion. The oth­ers are River­sun, Gis­borne, Lyn­wood, Whangarei, Opihi, Te Puna, South­ern Cross, Tau­ranga, and Trevelyan, Te Puke. The newly-es­tab­lished Maori ini­tia­tive Te Kaha Nurs­ery is also a mem­ber but, for the short term at least, plans on pro­duc­ing ki­wifruit for East Coast grow­ers. Martelli’s nurs­ery is steadily grow­ing its stock of trees, pro­duc­ing mostly Hass on Zu­tano root­stock, with a smat­ter­ing of Fuerte, Ba­con and Reed, but that's only one branch to its tree. From the 10 tun­nel houses on his two-hectare prop­erty near the banks of the Taruheru River, he also pro­duces hardy young plants of mostly cit­rus, but also ki­wifruit, pomegranates, and solid quan­ti­ties of young na­tives. They serve a snow­balling base of both com­mer­cial and do­mes­tic clients he serves in Gis­borne and around the coun­try, but he doesn't want to grow too rapidly.

“In our first year-and-a-half we dis­patched about 20,000 plants,”he said.

“This year we've al­ready sent out 50,000 and, if we choose not to ex­pand, we have an ul­ti­mate ca­pac­ity of 100,000. For me, though, it's im­por­tant to have a life, to have fam­ily time, so we're fo­cus­ing on man­ag­ing orders so we don't get too big, too fast.”

And he be­lieves that keep­ing the op­er­a­tion small means it can be nim­ble, re­spond­ing quickly to mar­ket de­mand.

“For ex­am­ple, the seed­less man­darins have been pop­u­lar but as the ki­wifruit in­dus­try con­tin­ues to re­cover that will likely be­come a big­ger part of the busi­ness as time goes by.”

Martelli's con­nec­tion to grow­ing goes back a long time –

cen­turies, in fact – in his home re­gion of Bari, in the hot, dry prov­ince of Puglia. One of the big­gest grow­ing re­gions in Italy, Bari is es­pe­cially well known for its cit­rus, veg­eta­bles, olives and ta­ble grapes, all of which he pro­duced for both lo­cal mar­kets and ex­port, right down to work­ing his own nurs­ery.

His fam­ily has al­ways grown pro­duce on land – com­plete with a view of a beau­ti­ful me­dieval tower – they have owned from the 1500s. Even though his ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was a lawyer he had a pas­sion for grow­ing olives and grape vines.

As a young man, how­ever, Martelli fol­lowed in the foot­steps of his fa­ther, a vi­rol­o­gist and plant pathol­o­gist, and pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, an en­to­mol­o­gist, by study­ing science at univer­sity.

“That was un­til one day I was work­ing in the lab and re­alised I didn't re­ally en­joy be­ing on the in­side look­ing out,” he said.

“So even though I knew my fa­ther would have a heart at­tack, I went out to work in the world.”

With a back­ground in mi­cro­prop­a­ga­tion al­ready be­hind him, the bud­ding busi­ness­man tire­lessly worked his fam­ily land and es­tab­lished a thor­oughly mod­ern grow­ing op­er­a­tion.

Then, around the turn of the new mil­len­nium – when he was ap­proach­ing his mid-20s – Martelli trav­elled with his fa­ther to at­tend a science con­fer­ence in Aus­tralia, where he met a man who would change his life. A dis­tin­guished sci­en­tist and fel­low Ital­ian, the late Dr Rod­er­ick Bon­figli­oli, was mov­ing to NZ and he in­vited his new friend to visit him to look at the wine and nurs­ery in­dus­tries.

“Over in Italy we were al­ready hear­ing about what was hap­pen­ing in NZ so I was def­i­nitely cu­ri­ous,” he said.

“I came over to work at a lo­cal nurs­ery for three weeks and ended up stay­ing for three months.”

And, as all good sto­ries go, he'd met a woman.

“I was in love with the coun­try and in love with the girl, but I had a busi­ness to run and had to go home.”

It wasn't long be­fore Martelli and Ja­nine Sadlier re­con­nected and by the end of 2007 they'd de­cided to move back to NZ. Once he'd made land­fall, he worked as a po­lice of­fi­cer, for the Min­istry of Jus­tice, and again as a vine­yard man­ager and nurs­ery su­per­vi­sor.

“Then one day we were driv­ing to Taruheru Ceme­tery to pay our re­spects to a fam­ily mem­ber and just down the road we saw this piece of land. There was room both to es­tab­lish a nurs­ery and to build a home with plenty of room for our four kids to run around, so for us it was fan­tas­tic.”

Af­ter the pur­chase was fi­nalised there was a time of in­ac­tion when Martelli had what he de­scribes as “a bit of a mid-life cri­sis” as he pon­dered the way for­ward.

“Then the spark re-ig­nited and I thought I needed to get back to what I know . . . grow­ing.”

That de­cided, he set about bring­ing over the equip­ment he needed, and the new nurs­ery was born.

It's hard es­tab­lish­ing a life in a new coun­try, but there are things about Bari that Martelli does not miss. Once a pretty, se­cluded area of the coun­try, he said it has been heav­ily in­fil­trated by in­dus­try and tourism. And then there's the Mafia, which the Anti-Mafia In­ves­ti­ga­tion Di­rec­torate (DIA) be­lieves has “mil­i­tary con­trol” over cer­tain parts of the re­gion.

“It's like a poi­son . . . busi­nesses can't work with­out pay­ing pro­tec­tion money,” he said.

“It's not at all like you see in the movies. The re­al­ity is much more harsh.”

That means that he never takes any­thing for granted.

“I al­ways knew I wanted more for my kids so be­ing here is a dream,” he said.

“It is par­adise, and ev­ery day we have things to be grate­ful for.”

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