Teach­ers’ taste of hor­ti­cul­ture

Al­most 90 teach­ers were blown away by what they saw when they took a tour of grow­ing op­er­a­tions close to Auckland.

NZ Grower - - Contents - By Glenys Chris­tian

Al­most 90 teach­ers were blown away by what they saw when they took a tour of grow­ing op­er­a­tions close to Auckland.

Pukekohe grow­ers re­cently pulled out all the stops to show a group of teach­ers what their in­dus­try was all about and the great ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties it can pro­vide for their stu­dents.

The visit by 84 teach­ers on two buses was or­gan­ised by Young Farm­ers and was part of six held around New Zealand. Leeann Mor­gan, YFC’s school en­gage­ment of­fi­cer, based in Hamil­ton, ac­com­pa­nied them on their Day Out trip which, as well as a visit to T&G Global’s tomato grow­ing op­er­a­tion at Har­risville, in­cluded lunch at The Se­cret Gar­den at Pa­tuma­hoe, and the op­por­tu­nity to see op­er­a­tions at a dairy farm and goats be­ing milked.

The tours have been run­ning for the past four years, ini­tially just in Auckland and Christchurch, but were ex­panded to other re­gions in 2017. This year they’re been held in Auckland, Raglan, Hawke’s Bay, Palmer­ston North, Christchurch and In­ver­cargill with a to­tal of around 300 teach­ers at­tend­ing.

The aim is to main­stream the pri­mary in­dus­tries so class­room teach­ers are able to use ex­am­ples they dis­cov­ered on the Days Out to teach their sub­jects, such as maths, Leeann said.

“We’re try­ing to use food pro­duc­tion as a con­text for teach­ing dif­fer­ent sub­jects.”

So the aim is that what the teach­ers see is not con­fined just to con­tent for agri­cul­ture and hor­ti­cul­ture stud­ies, but in a wide range of other ar­eas.

For the Pukekohe tour on two buses, the teach­ers came from 41 dif­fer­ent schools. They were a mix­ture of science, busi­ness stud­ies, eco­nom­ics, ac­count­ing, food tech­nol­ogy, bi­ol­ogy, hor­ti­cul­ture, maths, tech­nol­ogy and English teach­ers, and there were a cou­ple of ca­reer ad­vis­ers as well.

“We're try­ing to use food pro­duc­tion as a con­text for teach­ing dif­fer­ent sub­jects.”

At T&G who bet­ter to brief them on what they would see dur­ing their visit

than grower, Gur­jant Singh, the joint win­ner, of the Young Veg­etable Grower of the Year Award. He started work 10 years ago as a part-time picker, pro­gress­ing to as­sis­tant then head grower in July.

Chanelle Hunter, se­nior sales spe­cial­ist, T&G Global cov­ered crops, gave a run­down of the proud his­tory of the com­pany which now has over 1000 grow­ers, of­fices around the world and em­ploys 1800 peo­ple along with over 2000 sea­sonal work­ers. Its Har­risville op­er­a­tion is one of five glasshouses pro­duc­ing 10 va­ri­eties of toma­toes, along with cap­sicums and cu­cum­bers for the North Is­land.

“But there’s a lot more in be­hind grow­ing toma­toes,” she said.

“There’s an­a­lysts, tech­ni­cal peo­ple, data en­try and ac­count man­agers.”

Her­man Fourie, one the com­pany’s grow­ers, ex­plained to the group how pro­duc­tion of toma­toes needed to be car­ried out 52 weeks of the year.

“They don’t stop grow­ing on hol­i­days,” he said.

“It’s a 365-day-a-year op­er­a­tion.”

There are 14 of the two hectare blocks of toma­toes grown on five sites, in con­trolled en­vi­ron­ments where com­put­ers reg­u­late car­bon diox­ide and ven­ti­la­tion at all times. Nat­u­ral gas is burned, pro­duc­ing hot wa­ter which is pumped through pipes en­sur­ing the glasshouses re­main warm at night. Plas­tic tubes feed the CO2 pro­duced into the glasshouses so the plants can use it, and liq­uid CO2 in­jec­tion is used as well.

Gut­ter­ing sys­tems col­lect all the rain­wa­ter fall­ing on the glasshouses which, along with all waste wa­ter, is col­lected in a pond so it can be re­cy­cled af­ter treat­ment. A hy­dro­ponic drip-feed sys­tem is used to de­liver nu­tri­ents to the plants which are grown in rock wool slabs. Ev­ery four to five weeks drain sam­ples are an­a­lysed to make sure nu­tri­ents fed to the plants are in the cor­rect bal­ance.

Labour man­ager, Kevin Stade, is in charge of the work­force car­ry­ing out a wide range of ac­tiv­i­ties in the glasshouses, such as fit­ting plas­tic arches to the plants so fruit­ing stems don’t kink, tak­ing off ex­cess flow­ers, clip­ping new growth on to strings used to lower plants when re­quired and plac­ing yel­low sticky strips at flower height to at­tract any in­sects. As well there’s the cru­cial, reg­u­lar work car­ried out by main­te­nance en­gi­neers on el­e­va­tor trol­leys which work­ers are con­stantly us­ing.

“There’s a wide range of skills just in the glasshouses,” Her­man said.

And from here it’s on to the com­pany’s Favona pack­house where the toma­toes are graded for colour and size to make sure ex­actly what’s re­quired ends up in shop­pers’ sal­ads. As part of a set of am­bi­tious 2025 en­vi­ron­men­tal as­pi­ra­tions T&G’s Jelly­bean and An­gel toma­toes have, for the last eight weeks, been packed in re­cy­clable card­board packs, in­stead of plas­tic which was formerly used, printed with veg­etable­based inks.

Teach­ers on the tour were par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in how they could in­tro­duce path­way op­tions to roles in the in­dus­try to their stu­dents. Leeann said around 20 T& G staff reg­u­larly speak to school pupils about em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in the hor­ti­cul­tural sec­tor. And Her­man said that a lot is learned in-house be­cause of the unique roles the com­pany of­fers. He, for ex­am­ple, was an en­vi­ron­men­tal ecol­o­gist, who moved to grow­ing out­door toma­toes, then first vis­ited T & G’s op­er­a­tion as part of a Pukekohe Young Grow­ers tour, be­fore mov­ing to work there.

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