A truly monumental occasion
When a celebration has been 100 years in the making it’s sure to be one to be remembered.
Over 580 growers, agricultural servicing company, supermarket representatives and both local and national politicians crowded into the Pukekohe Indian Association Hall on September 21 to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association (PVGA).
Outside there was an array of old agricultural machinery on show brought from growers’ properties around the area.
And inside a number of panels showed in words and photos the history of a number of local growing families. Stewart Howard from Tuakau cartage firm, Terence Howard and Co, did the signwriting,and the intention is that they will be displayed at future functions as a legacy item.
The theme was repeated inside with images of growing, particularly during the Second World War when Pukekohe was called on to supply American troops in the Pacific, displayed on the screen behind the stage. Small wooden tractors featured in the table decorations with guests given one to assemble themselves later at home. A powhiri by local Maori representative, Ashley Brougham, paid tribute to their integral involvement in the local vegetable growing community. As well as a korowai PVGA chairman, Pravin Hari, was presented with a carving. Master of Ceremonies was Paul Flynn, better known as IZB radio host Flynny, or in the Pukekohe area as the grandson of former PVGA president and life member, John Flynn. He told the story of being sent to do some ploughing by his “gang gang” on a John Deere tractor, only to have the front left wheel fall off. He contacted his grandfather by RT only who said that was impossible. Then he came and saw the situation for himself. “That was when I realised maybe there was another career for me.” He proved that well with a warm up competition where he called some attendees up on stage and persuaded them to howl, growl and repeat the words Rottweiler, Rottweiler to much laughter and applause.
Next it was time for Pravin to speak. “It’s a truly monumental occasion,” he said.
He said he felt three emotions; relief that everyone had turned up and looked great, gratitude and pride. “Without sponsors a night like this wouldn’t be possible,” he said.
He also thanked growers for their donations of produce and those on the PVGA executive committee, many of whom helped organise the event along with a range of other activities marking the centenary this year.
“The hardworking executive committee has truly made the association the tower of strength it is today,” he said.
“And I feel pride. To be elected chairman in the centennial year is truly amazing.”
He then asked 10 of the association’s 11 life members who were present, to stand to be applauded, saying without them the association wouldn’t be where it was.
A video was then played of local growers talking informally about growing yesterday and today and the Pukekohe area. Life member Lex Wilcox remembered first meeting older Canterbury growers at national meetings who he could see wondered, “who were these whipper-snappers?” Another life member, Ian MacDougall, talked of the anguish of finding of potato cyst nematode (PCN) in the area.
“We weren’t able to walk on our property,” he said.
“We had to put plastic bags on our feet and wash and steam clean our vehicles.”
He now believed there needed to be more effort put into telling growers’ stories.>
He felt three emotions; relief that everyone had turned up and looked great, gratitude and pride. PRAVIN HARI
“Town people don’t know where their vegetables come from.”
Another more recent life member, Keith Vallabh, said he believed a better story also needed to be told about the technology growers now used.
“We’ve come a long way.”
Former president, Ganpat (Patch) Hari, remembered how proud he felt when he first was called on to do inter-row knifing on crops his family grew. “There’s a lot of pride in the community and it’s a highlight to see the next generation coming on.” His nephew Pravin, talked of the pride he felt coming down Hobson Street in Auckland as a child and seeing a queue of trucks like those of his family’s heading for the old auction market. Howe Young said if growers presented quality produce there they knew they would get top price.
“There was a café at the market and everyone would talk to each other,” he said.
And a pump they had on their truck to wash it out once produce was unloaded came in very useful once when a neighbour’s house caught fire. “We helped put it out and they became lifelong friends,” he said. PVGA committee member, Simon Wilcox, said having a number of generational businesses involved meant there could be good discussions and good decisions made.
HortNZ president Julian Raine said it was great to be in Pukekohe to celebrate the occasion. And he particularly mentioned Bernadine Guilleux, recently elected to the HortNZ board.
“She’s one of yours,” he said.
“She’s the first true Pukekohe grower to sit on the board and the youngest director.”
He paid tribute to PVGA life members’ dedication which along with their time, energy and knowledge had moulded the organisation. Working as a team was required to make progress but it was also great to have fun.
“There’s always causes to fight,” he said.
He made a toast to past presidents and the next 100 years.
“Well done Pukekohe vegetable growers.” Labour MP, Anahila Kanongata’a Suisuiki, representing Minister for Primary Industries, Damien O’Connor, said the horticultural sector was an important one for the national economy but faced a number of challenges such as urban development and access to water. She warned that preserving highly productive soils such as those at Pukekohe might not be enough and growers might need to look at producing more with less environmental damage.
She quoted a Tongan hymn which asked what was the use of a single drop of water? >
“There's a lot of pride in the community and it's a highlight to see the next generation coming on.”
What was needed was to work together.
Grant Robinson, Countdown’s business manager, produce, said the 100-year celebration was quite an accomplishment.
“That’s a long time to be feeding Auckland and sometimes the whole country,” he said.
Dave Stewart, Foodstuffs North Islands’ general manager, merchandise, said the business was built on relationships and mutual success with “the fantastic growing region on Auckland’s doorstep”.
Past president, Grant Ryan, then revealed how the PVGA had decided to give back to the industry, by establishing an education trust.
“Developing people is key to the future of the industry,” he said. “The next generation is critical in all our businesses.”
They could be growing crops indoors or outdoors or driving drones rather than tractors.
The executive committee would develop the vehicle and funding criteria for the education trust and communicate that back to the growing community. And to kick start the funding a painting of a potato harvesting scene with the Bombay Hills prominent in the background was auctioned. It was painted by Pukekohe artist, 21-year –old Logan Moffat, who earlier in the year became the youngest person to win the Adam Portraiture Award.
Who better to take the bids than Jeffery Turner, chairman of J&P Turner. He said the centenary celebrated “those who came with nothing, worked hard, educated their kids and grew the industry we have today”.
The winning bid of $4000 was made by Pukekohe’s Yvonne Aarts, who said she and husband Gerry, who are former growers, were very happy to contribute to the next generation of growers. It was matched by a similar contribution from the PVGA.
Then it was time for dancing, group photo shots, catching up with friends from near and far as well as making new ones until well into the morning.
Celebrations have continued with a potato printing workshop at the Pukekohe Library during the school holidays. And in early December the PVGA will have a big role to play in the Pukekohe Santa Parade as well as LoneStar’s first ever Onion Festival, being held in the town the following week.