Singing as they pick the asparagus

By Lin Ferguson

1 comment
The Ni-Vanuatu workers sing in the local church while working the 14-week asparagus season in the Kawhatau Valley, near Mangaweka.
The Ni-Vanuatu workers sing in the local church while working the 14-week asparagus season in the Kawhatau Valley, near Mangaweka.

Spilling out every afternoon from the packing sheds on George and Diana Turney's asparagus farm in the glorious Kawhatau valley south of Taihape, are rich, Pacific Island voices singing and playing the music from their home island in Vanuatu.

As the music plays through a huge stereo system the 40 seasonal workers grade and pack the 300 crates of asparagus they picked from 5am that morning. They are all smiling and they sway with the music.

Mangaweka Asparagus is a family farm run by George, Diana and their son Simon and bringing in their Ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers for 14 weeks every year from the tiny island of Motolava at the tip of Vanuatu near the Solomon Islands was the best thing they ever did said Mr Turney. "These Ni-Vanuatu people are wonderful: they love to sing, are religious and they adore their families."

The island where they live is small with one road, one vehicle, there is no employment and the islanders live off their gardens and fishing.

The Turneys travel to the island every year to visit and recruit their workers with the help of an island agent.

"We have become very involved and it is of prime importance to us to try and get as many of the island children a high school education.

"There is no high school on the island so they need to board at school on another island and that takes money."

Bringing in the seasonal workers certainly does not mean there are no jobs for Kiwi workers here, he said.

"We've had plenty of local people here but they don't stay and it's hard to get them in for the full 14-week season."

Becoming members of the Regional Seasonal Employers (RSE) scheme in April 2007 has meant they know they are going to have the big workforce they need for their asparagus harvest every year from October to mid January.

Mr Turney ensures he brings in a supply of bikes from Green Bikes in Palmerston North for his workers to take off for rides through the scenic valley, or down to the Rangitikei River to swim.

"We work seven days a week through the season ... the boys work from around 5am to 10 am have a couple of hours off then work the afternoon through till 4pm."

As well as their sleeping quarters, four to a cabin, there are three huge lounges with sofas and televisions, one is a dedicated music room and an enormous kitchen and shower and toilet block.

Three cooks are employed to cook large meals that stay warm in a long row of slow cookers as well as food and fruit available in the fridges.

Last weekend they all had the day off to be part of the Taihape Christmas Parade.

"The men all stood on the back of the truck and sang and so inspired the crowd they made the truck stop so they could stand and listen to the men.

"The men also sing at our local church." he said.

The Turney's 40 hectare farm is perfect for growing the delectable asparagus, a vegetable these seasonal workers had never heard of before they came here, he said.

Mangaweka Asparagus is shipped throughout New Zealand from Invercargill to Northland. And of course there are the orders that go straight to Wellington and Auckland.

"Wellington like the jumbo sized asparagus but Aucklanders prefer the skinny ones."

The Turneys pay the workers' flights to New Zealand but the men pay their own fares home.

The workers take out $50 a week for expenses and the rest accumulates in personal bank accounts for them to take home.

Caring for his workers is important to Mr Turney, good accommodation and good food are a must and the health care of the men is Mrs Turney's province.

"We like to look after these men - they are all good men.

"Back on the island there is no electricity, they really are very poor but they are lovely people," he said.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 25 Jul 2014 17:11:36 Processing Time: 586ms