Ngāti Kuri iwi in the beautiful Far North descend from the founding peoples of Aotearoa’s northern most peninsula Te Hiku o Te Ika, where they cherish their whenua and put their mahi into looking after it and their people for future generations to come.
Within its rohe, the iwi operates a 60 hectare avocado orchard where it grows over 20,000 avocado trees and has also recently developed five canopy hectares of blueberries.
Part of the iwi’s remit is to build the capability of the whānau so that the hapu is strong, self-sufficient and thriving.
Since 2014 Ngāti Kuri have been encouraging orchard kaimahi to take up study alongside their work and now almost all of the 20 part-time and full-time workers are taking some form of study through the Primary ITO.
Waimarama Orchards kaimahi Mei Petera and Noel Rasmussen have been studying the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Fruit Production part-time. Mei has completed her Level 4 qualification and Noel is studying Level 3.
Aroha for new skills
Initially nervous at the prospect of studying, both are loving using the skills they have developed to train, upskill and encourage others on to a learning journey and further qualifications.
Mei, a busy mum with four tamariki who are from kohanga age to high school, has been promoted to manage the blueberry operation where she now supervises a team. She is also in the process of becoming a workplace assessor and mentor.
Mei says the opportunity to study has changed her life. “It’s shown that we don’t have to be just a worker in the orchard, we can get more experience and go into supervisor or manager.”
“We can develop to lead others and show them that there are more opportunities for them. It gives you satisfaction in your job and gives you a feeling of wanting to come to work.”
Through his study Noel has taken a lead role in the avocado orchard. From a forestry background, he’s also involved in a native seed collection and propagation initiative for a native tree nursery being developed for whenua planting, and in the irrigation work for the developing blueberry block.
Noel says the opportunity has helped him to feel good about both being Māori and his work. “It is definitely a proud feeling working under a Māori organisation that is giving people opportunity to upskill and a better future direction.”
Noel is dad to three tamariki at intermediate and high school and says school work was never his thing, but the homework for his apprenticeship bought about an unlikely positive experience.
“I get to sit down with my oldest daughter and we do our study together. We talk over our work and she lifts the bar for me, I like that.”
Knowledge for the whenua
Both Noel and Mei say they are keen to take what they have learnt back to their whānau so their whenua and people can prosper.
“With the knowledge I have gained here I want to give back to my people. I would like to establish something for my whānau on my land, something sustainable and self-sufficient,” says Noel.
Mei has been asked by her iwi Ngāti Kuri to take on a role with their whenua at Ngātaki, in the same rohe as the orchard.
Noel and Mei say a few years ago they never thought that they would be in a position to lead others but now they enjoy their new mahi.
“I get to help and show them the extra little things that they can also pass on to others. I’m training others in my work and basically upskilling them, I love that,” says Noel.
Mei says she encourages anyone who’s offered an opportunity to study for a qualification to go for it. “You don’t have to be a certain person to do this, anyone can do it. A lot of opportunities come out of this – it opens doors to things like a promotion, working in another business or looking at your own type of business.”
And while fitting the study in to their lives was challenging at times, both Mei and Noel are most thankful for the support they’ve had from their Primary ITO training advisor, Trina Hodgson, and Waimarama Orchards Kaiwhakahaera Matua Supervisor, Paul Tolladay, who have backed them all the way.
Paul says he’s delighted with Mei and Noel’s persistence and success and that many of his team are now studying toward qualifications. He’s proud to work with an iwi that’s encouraging kaimahi to gain qualifications and recognition for the work they do.
Paul has spent many years supporting and encouraging kaimahi through their study. “To see people who have come in to our industry with no expectations of bettering themselves achieving qualifications like this is the ultimate. That beats any crop that you can grow.”
The effort of this proud iwi to give its tangata whenua opportunity is also bringing success and recognition. Waimarama Orchards is part of Miro, a collective of Māori food producers, and won the 2020 Miro Grower of the Year Award with its first blueberry harvest.
Paul says the iwi’s success is a community effort and it is grateful for the support of training advisor Trina in particular. “No one person can achieve this on their own. It is a team that works together to brings that wrap-around support that makes it.”
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