Greg Prendergast is your typical Kiwi guy who loves the great outdoors. But he has taken his love of the land one step further than most, and made working as a grower a successful career for more than 30 years.
A tomato grower for T&G (formerly Turners & Growers, his lifelong love of working on the land started at a very early age. Growing up on a large Waikato berry farm, which also had hectares of tomato vines, Greg knew he wanted to become a grower at just 6 years old, when he started picking strawberries for his parents.
"I can clearly remember getting enough money to buy a choc-dip icecream, costing me about 7cents. And I still had money left over," he says. "What drew me to working as a grower was the challenge — growing the perfect fruit and vegetables is multifaceted; there are so many elements to consider. You start with a tomato seed, sow it, graft it and plant it in the glasshouse. It grows for 12 months and produces in excess of 700 tomatoes.
"Our Kiwi ingenuity, resourcefulness and creativity — that Kiwi No8 way of thinking — is so evident in the way we grow."
"During that 12 months you have a whole team of technicians assisting with nutrition of the plant, growth, training and pruning, before we even start on the rest of the supply chain — packaging, transport and sales. There is so much that goes into the humble tomatoes stacked on your supermarket shelves."
Head grower for covered crops at T&G, Mr Prendergast manages five sites across the North Island that span 28ha, growing many different varieties of tomatoes all year round. Greg believes New Zealand has the best varieties of tomatoes in the world for many reasons, but first and foremost the classic Kiwi mentality.
"Our Kiwi ingenuity, resourcefulness and creativity — that Kiwi No8 way of thinking — is so evident in the way we grow. We're constantly on the hunt for smarter ways of doing things, and I think it's this way of thinking that sees us create the best tasting, best quality tomatoes in the world," he says. "Over the years I have travelled the world to look for new varieties of tomatoes and build relationships with breeders of exciting new varieties.
You wouldn't think many developments could happen with tomatoes, but a few years ago people would have laughed at the idea of a yellow tomato, so you never know what might be next.
"We spend an enormous amount of time in discussion with breeders, talking about what we need as a variety in our New Zealand climate and also what works with Kiwi taste buds. We push our staff to always strive to be better, and we lead by example — we want to be able to say, hand on heart, that we are truly the world leader in horticulture."
Greg says there is one special team who deserve their own mention for the part they play in creating his beloved Beekist tomatoes. "Our tomatoes wouldn't be what they are without our humble, hardworking bumble bees — the namesake of our Beekist tomatoes.
Our bumble bees fly between the Beekist tomato vines to pollinate them just the way nature intended — sustainably, and friendly for the environment.
"I'm really proud of the work I do producing the largest volume of tomatoes in New Zealand. Next time you're tucking into a tomato — which, if it's a Beekist tomato, should be fresh, not watery, and have great taste and flavour — think of all the people who contribute to handcrafting that tomato. There's a lot of love that goes into those little guys!"¦