Ann Owen believes so passionately in both education and the horticultural industry she has pledged $150,000 to the project to build a dedicated horticultural facility in Katikati.

"Education, in my view, should have the highest priority because it determines the future outcomes for so many lives. It can be the ticket out of poverty but also provide the skills at all levels the industry needs," says Ann, who has committed to donating $30,000 over five years to the Katikati Innovative Horticulture Trust.

Ann hopes others, including major industry players, will also make generous donations to the fund.

"The project needs to raise around $430,000 by September to build the facility and a further $125,000 for operational expenses. In the scheme of things, it's not a lot of money. They are not planning to build an elaborate facility, but one which is functional."

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In late May the trust's bank balance stood at $110,00, with $60,000 of that donated during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

Money has come from kiwifruit and avocado growers, Zespri and the Department of Internal Affairs Lottery Community Fund. The New Zealand Fruitgrowers Charitable Trust has approved a grant of $25,000 subject to sufficient funding within the next 12 months to ensure the project succeeds.

Ann, a former president of Katikati Rotary, and retired registered nurse and real estate agent, was inspired to support the trust after attending meetings addressed by Hilary Johnson, Innovative Horticulture manager, Katikati College.

"The meetings were well attended but few people put their hands up to make donations. Then the project was turned down by the Provincial Growth Fund and I thought – well I'll do something myself."

The Katikati Innovative Horticulture Trust has been established to create a centre of excellence, based at Katikati College, bringing together educational skills and training providers under one umbrella to offer pathways into horticulture.

From her years of selling real estate, and owning an avocado orchard and large home orchard, Ann knows well the potential of the Bay of Plenty soils and climate for diverse horticultural crops.

"The industry is going to need more people with hands on practical skills and technicians and scientists to help us adapt, because climate change is going to affect what we can grow and how we grow it."

Water, or the lack of it will be a big issue as will increasing pest and disease pressures. However, opportunities to grow new crops may also open up.

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"Where better to help people gain the skills needed than in Katikati where they can go on field trips to experience the industry first-hand as well as have access to quality education?"

Ann's donation is extremely generous and the certainty of receiving the funding over the next five years has given the project a real boost, says Hilary.

"It's incredible to think that Ann, who will not personally benefit from the educational outcome provided by the centre, has made such a generous donation. It's given the trust a real confidence boost and we are incredibly grateful.

"We're asking for everybody's support. The Katikati community can do this and every little bit helps," says Hilary.

■ To make a donation go to: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/innovative-horticulture-is-the-future
Visit the Innovative Horticulture website at: https://sites.google.com/katikaticollege.school.nz/innovativehorticultureatkatika/home