Growing the gardeners of tomorrow

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Experienced organic gardener and WITT Te Pūkenga Horticulture Tutor Carl Freeman wishes the courses he now teaches were on offer locally when he first had the idea of turning his lawn into one giant vege garden.

“Knowing what I now know, I would’ve done a better job earlier,” he says of his career as a small-scale market gardener with Freeman Farms.

Carl joined WITT as a tutor at the start of 2021 and has grown the local horticulture offerings to two New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture (Level 3) programmes, an Organic Primary Production Certificate (Level 4) programme and a five-week pruning micro-credential.

“Taranaki has enormous potential to be a large horticulture employer so it is great to have the programmes on offer to create the workforce the region will need and at the same time cater to those who want to upskill for their personal horticulture endeavours,” says Carl.

An assessment of the land and climate in Taranaki undertaken by Venture Taranaki identified 207,000ha as suitable for horticulture. Looking to the past well-respected nursery Duncan and Davies used to take on 10-20 apprentices every year, many of whom own local nursery businesses today.

“The class make-ups are really diverse – we have 17-year-olds through to 70-year-olds – but most want to get a job in horticulture,” he says.

And many graduates of the programmes have gone on to gain work in nurseries and for local councils.

The two level-three programmes are run at different times (one day and one evening) and lead on to the level 4 programme.

“The level 4 naturally builds on the foundation knowledge gained in the level 3 programme and can be taken alongside the level 3 qualification as they are both run part-time,” says Carl.

Both programmes also have plenty of hands-on learning on offer and include regular field trips to local growers, nurseries and even Parihaka.

“The level 4 programme deliberately starts in July to follow the seasons  - we plan (in winter), then do (in spring) and finally evaluate (summer’s end).”

Carl studied in his hometown of Melbourne and comments that tertiary learners today have amazing access to resources from counsellors, the likes of free gym memberships and dedicated support from kaimahi to ensure their success.

In addition to working in and running market gardens, Carl is involved with the local food economy in Taranaki by initiating the Farming to Flourish Pivot Research and has been a member of various expert advisory committees related to food production with Venture Taranaki and Sustainable Taranaki.

See Carl at work on campus thanks to a video with Bryan Vickery.

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