Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chinese market gardens in NZ

JILL GALLOWAY Last updated 09:46 11/10/2012 During their heyday in the 1970s, there were 600 Chinese market gardeners in New Zealand, but now there are only 157. Many young people watched their parents work hard in the market gardens and they became lawyers and doctors, choosing not to work like their parents, said the chief executive of the Dominion Federation of New Zealand Chinese Commercial Growers, Howe Young. He was one of the speakers at the Palmerston North launch of two books last week: Sons of the Soil and Success Through Adversity. Sons of the Soil covers the history of Chinese market gardening through the personal stories of more than 100 ordinary people from market gardening communities around the country. Success Through Adversity is about the Chinese Federation's history and how it has upheld the rights of market gardeners through its almost 70-year history. Palmerston North Deputy Mayor Jim Jefferies said there were 150,000 people of Chinese descent living in New Zealand. "They are an integral part of a multicultural New Zealand. In Manawatu, we have 100 different nationalities and we're proud of it." President of the Manawatu Chinese Growers Association William Young said that the books told the story of the history of Chinese people, and "paid homage to all our forefathers who came to New Zealand for a better life and to give their children a better life". Howe Young said 40 per cent of Chinese in New Zealand were market gardeners, providing 80 per cent of all green vegetables grown. "Market gardening by Chinese used to be a family business and the federation had influence with the marketing companies. Now, it's the supermarkets that have the power." The harder a person worked, the more money they made, he said. "That's not the case now. You can work hard and lose money, as the cost of production can be more than the produce is worth." William Young said the height of the Chinese growers in New Zealand was during the period spanning the late 1960s through to the late 1980s. "These were the golden years for the Chinese growers, as many families had their grown-up children coming back on the farms to help, mechanisation was becoming more widely used and affordable, costs of production were low and returns to the growers were very good." But things had changed, he said. "Growers' children are going to university, getting professional jobs and not returning back to the traditional family business of growing vegetables." At the same time, William Young said the cost of machinery had risen, the cost of production - seeds, fertilisers, sprays and fuel - had gone up markedly and there were a lot more compliance regulations. "Our margins have been squeezed, and growers are price takers now, not price makers. "We get given a price for our produce and we cannot set our prices to reflect the cost increases of our inputs." Author Lily Lee said one of the best things about the six-year labour of love writing the book Sons of the Soil was that she got to talk to many older people who had since died. The book included their stories. "Women were often the unsung heroes. The wives toiled tirelessly in the market garden." She said the book would be great for children, because they could trace their ancestors and ancestral villages through them. Sons of the Soil and Success Through Adversity were given to the Palmerston North City Council, the library, the city archive, Massey University, a primary school and five secondary schools. There is also a website on the role of Chinese market gardeners in New Zealand. - © Fairfax NZ News

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