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NorthTec studies lead to an emerging commercial enterprise

Media release: NorthTec studies lead to an emerging commercial enterprise in Kaikohe

Solo father Ashton Tairua (Ngāpuhi) wants to prove to his three sons that they can make a good living from the land.

After completing the horticulture programme Ashton went on to study sustainable rural development and has now broken in and cultivated a block of land with a variety of cash crops, near Kaikohe as the first step towards setting up his own commercial-scale market garden.

“I’ll be marketing my produce as healthy Māori food grown using traditional Māori methods and philosophies combined with the up-to-date relevant conventional methods that I have learnt at NorthTec,” said Ashton.

“The programmes at NorthTec have helped me to pull together the diverse skills I have. I was already growing produce but this has added to my kete of knowledge. Previously it was only half-full and I tended to put things in the ground and just see what happened.

“Now I have the extra knowledge I need to affirm the gardening skills I was brought up with but didn’t really take in as a kid. The NorthTec programmes have helped me to step up and have more confidence and have given me knowledge of the soil. Now I know that suppliers and service companies are there to help, whereas before I might have been wary of approaching them – I wouldn’t have wanted them to think that I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

NorthTec tutor Justin Blaikie is right behind Ashton and has worked with WINZ to support Ashton’s application for a grant to help him to buy machinery.

“There’s a really bright future ahead for Ashton,” said Justin. “His dream is to be self-employed and it’s great that WINZ are supporting him through this transition period.”

Ashton’s fellow NorthTec students have also pitched in and helped to construct a high-quality, robust propogation house on Ashton’s block of land. “That will last him 20-25 years,” said Justin. “More than $500 worth of plants have come out of there this year. That’s a huge boost for a small enterprise like this.”

Ashton himself contributed timber for the tunnel house and sourced other materials and, more importantly, put in countless hours of hard work with his 17 and 10-year old sons, clearing gorse, preparing and planting out the land. “They moan but they spend their whole holidays doing it! As a solo Dad it’s allowed me to show them that something can work and has helped me to put a work ethic into my kids. My 10-year old marches out into the garden with a song now. He looks at the garden and says, ‘We can do this!’. We actually can do it as solo parents. We can dig down deep and we can do it, but it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Ashton says that his studies at NorthTec have helped him understand the steps involved in setting up a commercial-scale operation. His next task is to market and sell his produce in his key target markets, including farmers’ markets, organic stores, marae, festivals and Māori tourism operators. “I would love to see Māori enterprises taking a cooperative approach to that kind of marketing push,” said Ashton.

“In the north, given our economic climate this kind of enterprise is really important. I really believe that this area could be the next Pukekohe.

An ongoing battle with gout was what prompted Ashton to start gardening and he keen to promote the healthy eating message to others. “Naturally-grown food without chemicals was my cure, so I want to keep on doing it and promote it to health organisations. Growing, eating and selling our own food is the true tino rangatiratanga. The irony is that Māori food is where it’s at, it attracts a premium, but not much of it is actually ending up on our own people’s tables.”

The challenge for Ashton is how much he can do as one person. “I want to bite off more but there aren’t that many people who are into the garden and will turn up for the work.”

With more land to break in ahead of him to convert into a plant nursery and his existing crops to nurture, harvet and sell there’s plenty of work ahead for Ashton and his sons – but the promise of a brighter future keeps him motivated.“It’s up to me to prove to the kids that I can make serious money. It’s not just about putting food on the table and surviving, it’s about thriving.”

NorthTec is the Tai Tokerau (Northland) region's largest provider of tertiary education, with campuses and learning centres in Whangarei, Kerikeri, Rāwene, Kaikohe and Kaitaia. NorthTec also has over 60 community-based delivery points from Coatesville in rural Rodney to Ngataki in the Far North.


ENDS

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