Geoff began to consider a career in horticulture after he enjoyed a stint working outdoors as a caretaker of a rural property outside Auckland. He moved to Christchurch and enrolled in the Diploma of Horticulture at Lincoln University, but at the end of the year he felt his practical skills were still lacking. He also had a sense of disquiet about the environmental crisis which he wanted to do something about on a personal level so he enrolled in Year Two of the Organic Horticulture course at the BHU. He was attracted to the course because of the practical component and because it had an organic focus.
Going straight into Year Two was challenging for Geoff but others on the course who had done Year One and were “way ahead of him as gardeners” helped him a great deal and he also appreciated help from the tutors and Ivan Barnett, the farm manager. His crops that year were potatoes and zucchinis which he sold through the stall at Lincoln University. Geoff took over operating the weekly stall which he really enjoyed due to the goodwill of the regular customers, and he also sold produce at the Lincoln Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
The following year Geoff enrolled in the Stepping Stone programme and, with another grower, grew a small commercial crop of garlic which yielded 150 kg of high quality garlic. This was a great opportunity to work with professional growers and use machinery, and he found it very satisfying to follow production from beginning to end. The Stepping Stone programme gave him “a excellent window into the life of a grower” – coming to grips with machinery, the challenge of making an income from the land, contact with other growers and selling his crop.
“The BHU programme turned out to have a lot more to it than I anticipated. Several of the staff are top-level experts in organics, and many of the tutors have industry-based experience built up over many years. The module on water issues became the starting point for what’s become an on-going interest in Canterbury’s water issues and I also did short courses in workshop skills and tractor and chainsaw safety.”
Geoff also enjoyed the network of his fellow students. “My time at the BHU was really rewarding in lots of ways.” He now works part-time as a grower, part-time gardening for other people and is developing his home garden as a source of food.