Springing into a horticultural future

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30 March 2022, NZ: Allie Telfer knows exactly where she would have been without the Springboard Community Works programme mentoring and encouraging her into a future in horticulture. GLENYS CHRISTIAN speaks to the 20-year-old about her journey so far and her newfound niche in horticulture.

Allie Telfer started work at Warkworth’s Southern Paprika in July last year in the payroll and human resources administration group and has quickly become a valued member of the team.

She now sees horticulture as very much part of her future.

“I probably wouldn’t have been alive [without it].”

She admits she knew little about Southern Paprika’s growing operation when she applied for work there.

“I was blown away by what goes into the business which I’ve loved learning more about,” she says. “It’s amazing. I like to know the how and why behind things.”

Before employment at Southern Paprika, Allie says she struggled with mental health.

At school she faced abuse and bullying which led her to suffer from anxiety and depression. As a result, she left school at 15 and attempted to complete school lessons online.

“I got into partying,” she says. “My head wasn’t in the right space.”

After coming to the attention of the Police, Allie was referred to Springboard – a programme creating opportunities for young people to achieve positive outcomes and pathways to success.

“I had all round support and encouragement, and I was taught life skills,” she says.

After spending time in Australia, she worked for a couple of years in her father’s automotive workshop, handling reception and accounts. She started a Diploma of Business Management which is now near completion, but Allie wanted more for her future as she saw cars would become increasingly electric.

“Horticulture is going to be around forever,” she says. “So, we’ve got to invest in it, as vegetables are where we get our vitamins and nutrition.”

With nothing taught about horticulture through her schooling, she’s a firm believer that there should be more school tours of enterprises such as Southern Paprika.

“People should be going in and explaining what goes on behind the scenes,” she says. “It’s something that pupils would want to get involved in, but it’s not pushed like building or construction.”

And a lot of school pupils think horticultural work is too hard, she says.

“They want to jump on their phones and be YouTubers. But the hardest work brings the most rewards.”

She’s been intrigued to find out more about the back story of capsicums and just how much coordination is required to run a large-scale business. She’s proud of the company’s emphasis on sustainability though water recycling, using biodegradable strings to tie the plants up, the use of coco-peat as a growing medium and feeding non-saleable produce to cows on a neighbouring farm.

“Nothing goes to waste.”

A recent trip to the company’s avocado plantings at Tapora, on the edge of the Kaipara Harbour, gave her a real insight into just what’s required to put them on the shelves for shoppers.

“I loved that side of things,” she says.

She’s also enjoyed finding out more about the different cultures that make up Southern Paprika’s 150-strong workforce, with those from Tuvalu and Kiribati using their employment to build a future for their families.

“I feel grounded here doing something that’s good for the environment, employees and the community,” she says. “You need to give people a chance. You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Loving the organisational side of things, she wants to build on her management skills and learn how to lead people.

I have a new sense of direction, a boost to my confidence and I feel I can do something good in the world,” she says. “I think I’ll be working in horticulture for a long time.”

Springboard founder, Gary Diprose, set up the programme in 2002 after PGG Wrightson was asked to provide an alternative education programme for pupils expelled from Mahurangi and Rodney Colleges. The company pulled out after 18 months and a trust was formed in 2004, which became known as Springboard Community Works. The Police asked Gary to work with other youth offenders and now Springboard, with a staff of 30, caters for 270 young people a year ranging from eight to 25-year-olds.

“We get to know young people and give them hope for the future,” he says. “It’s a holistic and community approach.”

From its new base at Sheepworld, north of Warkworth, Springboard plans to extend its wide range of employment training and options for young people further into horticulture.

“They do need a lot of support to transition,” he says. “But then they get the whole feeling of working in a real work environment. Some are absolute stars and make a massive success of it. And that has a ripple effect.”

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