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Vision for sustainability fuels grandfather’s studies

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Long-term vision for economic sustainability fuels Awanui grandfather’s studies at NorthTec

Ted Watts

“I want to use the land as an economic base for our people and for the betterment of my grandchildren,” said Awanui grandfather and current NorthTec horticulture student Ted Watts (Ngati Whatua/Ngāpuhi).

That’s why he has just completed a level 2 horticulture programme based at the Kaitaia campus and has enrolled for the level 3 National Certificate in Horticulture programme next year – the first time that the level 3 programme will be offered at the Kaitaia campus. “Hopefully I will then do the level 4 horticulture programme to complete my basic training!”

Ted believes that educating himself is the key to unlocking the potential of more than 200 acres of personal and whānau land that he wants to turn into a commercial enterprise. “Working the land is one of the easiest things to do but a lot of us have lost our skills. That’s why courses like this are important. They improve your skills and your strike rate. I’ve also got to have qualifications behind me so that I have the credibility I need to approach the back for a loan. The horticulture qualifications are nationally-recognised tertiary qualifications.”

After a 30-year career in hospitality Ted is glad to have his feet firmly planted on the whenua to support the five grandchildren who have been living with him and his wife since their daughter passed away. “I’ve always been with the land and this is my way of providing an opportunity for my grandchildren to move into the agriculture and horticulture sector.

“My eldest grandchild has just turned 14 and has a gift for caring for animals. He is of the land and always will be. I’m looking at establishing a market garden so that my grandchildren can take the enterprise to the next level. It’s also a way of supplying the whānau and my own table with food and as way of providing a sustainable source of food for our pigs.” Ted is currently putting in a citrus orchard of 100 trees on his land and has planted perpetual cash crops such as spinach as a source of income.

Getting the whole whānau involved is an important part of the process. “If I can give my grandchildren the gift of growing their own food, that’s a gift for life. Our kids are meant for more than working in smoke-filled work environments so let’s provide them with the opportunities to achieve more.

“Our grandchildren are learning and growing through the experience of working on the land. My 9-year old grand-daughter planted out 200 beans, 150 cucumbers and 300 corn seeds last week. One of the greatest rewards is seeing the smiles on their faces when they harvest food that they have grown through their own efforts.”

Ted has found the NorthTec programme invaluable in terms of increasing his success rate. “Through my studies I now understand what things haven’t worked in the past. John Tilson’s a great tutor. He’s helped me identify issues such as ‘too much love’ – that’s when people water things too much. Now my gardens are coming along really well. I now have a strike rate of 80-90 per cent whereas it used to be more like 50 per cent.”

The next step is converting his learning and hard work into income, hopefully through establishing a strong local market for his produce. “The opportunities for income are there, I can see it happening in the future. You can make a living out of the local market without transporting produce down to Auckland for the overseas market. I have a workforce behind me who will be willing to take the task on with me. The next two to three years will be exciting for me and my young family.”

Above all, Ted’s keen to play a part in reversing the trend that has seen fresh food becoming a luxury item for many families. “Growing their own food is one of the essential skills that our children need. It’s all part and parcel of an overall vision of becoming sustainable.”

John Tilson will be delivering the National Certificate in Horticulture level 3 from the Kaitaia campus starting on 3 March next year.

© Scoop Media

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