When she finished her degree, Diego made Maria a promise: 'With your knowledge and
my hard work, we can turn the sand to gold.'

A Far North avocado and berry orchard which featured on Country Calendar last week is to be sold, with an auction organised for April 26.

The owners of the 6.2ha Tomo Orchard at Pukenui — Maria and Diego Fathollahi — impressed on television with the hard-working approach they had taken to turning an old avocado orchard into an income-earning venture by introducing blueberries they grew in tunnel houses.

Maria and Diego both immigrated to New Zealand in the same year, but from very different cultures.

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Maria grew up in South Africa before moving here with her family when she was 13.
It was love at first sight when as a 16-year-old she met 22-year-old Diego, an immigrant from Iran, in an Auckland kebab house where he was working.

Diego worked at several jobs while Maria studied fulltime for a horticulture degree. She had always wanted a blueberry farm and when she finished her degree he made her a promise: "With your knowledge and my hard work, we can turn the sand to gold."

They moved to the Tomo Orchard in 2013. It had about 550 avocado trees aged 20-35 years on 4ha.

They reduced their avocado orchard canopy to 3ha and planted 1500 blueberry plants for export.

They went on to plant a further 10,000 blueberries over the next two years, and also began supplying the local market with raspberries.

Maria became a fruit crops technical adviser for Farmlands and they had two children, their son Esmaeel, now 3, and a 16-month-old daughter

But health problems have now compelled the couple to put their orchard on the market and downsize their workload for a quieter lifestyle.

Maria told The Country they could keep their roadside shop and a section at Pukenui, and they were considering making a road trip around New Zealand or Australia.

In the meantime, the orchard auction was the main item on their agenda, with production records encouraging potential buyers.

Tomo blueberries grow under 10,000sq m of fully enclosed framed canopies and 8000sq m of covered netting. In the 2016 season the orchard produced 1177 trays of blueberries, increasing to 3210 trays last year, 6250 trays this year and a forecast 9200 trays next season.

The orchard's 346 avocado trees also produce fruit, as do 2000 raspberry plants yielding 600kg of fruit annually. There were 1782 trays of avocados harvested in the 2014/15 season, 2500 trays in 2017/18 and 3000 trays forecast for 2019/20.

Both the berries and avocados are sold directly to Auckland retailers and supermarkets, with the orchard's refrigerated truck also delivering some to Pak'nSave Kaitaia.

The orchard has a single-storey three bedroom owner/managers house with a swimming pool and two 18.900-litre water tanks to store water from a bore with a resource consent to use 14,800 cubic metres of water annually.

All blueberries are graded in a 54sq m packhouse. Other buildings are a three-bay implement shed for tractor and implement storage, a separate agri chemicals storage shed and a six-metre coolstore unit.

The business is being sold with a full inventory of orchard crop management equipment ranging from pickers, pruners, ladders, airblast sprayers, netting and a grading conveyor belt with packing bench.

The sale of Tomo Orchard was being handled by Bayleys salesman Vinni Bhula, phone 022 632 0630.