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Source: Eastern Institute of Technology – Tairāwhiti

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EIT | Te Pūkenga graduate Alix Te Kere (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Maru) is one of three finalists in the annual Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award.

An EIT | Te Pūkenga graduate is one of three finalists in the annual Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award.

Alix Te Kere (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Maru) is a health and safety advisor for snack apple grower Rockit Management Services in Hastings. The 30-year-old placed second in last year’s Hawke’s Bay Young Fruit Grower of the Year competition and was encouraged by a number of people to enter the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award.

“I thought it would be good to just enter and see how I go. Being Māori, we work with the land and we live with it. So, it’s just something that comes natural to where my whānau is from.”

The results exceeded her expectations.

“It did come as a surprise because the competition is nationwide. It’s spread out to all of New Zealand. So, you’ve got a lot of good competitors within the New Zealand region in horticulture. So I was actually surprised and shocked that I placed.”

To get to this point, Alix went through a rigorous process with judges coming to her workplace to meet her and her boss. She was questioned on her knowledge of horticulture, her whānau, and how Māori Tikanga is playing a big role in horticulture.

The finals involve a three-day study course in Tauranga, further input on tikanga Māori , and competing at a Field Day, before the winner is announced on 9 June.

Alix completed the Horticulture Apprenticeship Programme at EIT | Te Pūkenga last year and plans to return to tackle the NZ Diploma in Horticulture Production (Fruit Production) [Level 5].

“I was going to start back this year but, I’ve given it a break. So, I’ve spoken with my manager and I want to start back next year.”

With regard to studying and working at the same time, Alix says she is in a fortunate position.

“I actually feel like I was lucky because our company, encourages us take these steps, do your apprenticeship, as well as learn on the job and grow within the company.”

“They always offer opportunities to grow within the company. And a lot of us have. I’ve gone from an orchard hand to an advisor.”

It has been a tough road for Alix, who completed her last year of high school while she was pregnant with her first son. She was on the benefit, and with the responsibility to provide for him she knew she did not want to be on the benefit forever.

She joined Crasborn Bros when she turned eighteen, working night shifts while her son slept so she could spend the daytime with him. Once the packing season ended, she started in the orchards. It was only meant to be temporary, but she fell in love with being outside and being in the orchards and was grateful to have people there who taught her the basics of orcharding.

Alix worked in early childhood while she was hapu with her second son, then again with her third son, before joining Rockit in 2018. She is loving her role.

“I have an amazing connection with all the staff in field, helped by my strong background as an orchard hand and just by being that person people can rely on – that’s what makes my job fun and exciting. Sometimes tiring, but it’s a good work life balance.”

“Working in health and safety means that I look after the people within our company to ensure that they are safe and protected and that we are doing our best to make sure that they’re in a good working environment. Because at the end of the day you want to go home the way you came to work alive basically.”

“But I see it as every worker in the orchard is someone’s child and to make sure that they are in a good working environment.”  

Clare Buckner, EIT | Te Pūkenga horticulture tutor, is thrilled to see Alix being nominated for this prestigious award.

“Alix was a great student through EIT, not just with her excellent assessment work, but by being such a warm and supportive member of the class. She graduated from our three year managed apprenticeship last year and  is well remembered and liked by her classmates.  It is no surprise that she is forging such a successful career.”

“Alix  is someone who is quick to acknowledge the help and support she has received and is very willing to offer the same to others.  We wish her the very best of luck with the Ahu Whenua Young Grower of the Year competition.”