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Horticultural Cadet Finds Growing a Fruitful Career

September 11, 2012

Benjimen James proudly displays his Hawke’s Bay Young Fruitgrower of the Year trophy.

The third generation of his family to work in the Hawke’s Bay fruit industry, Benjimen (correct spelling) James believes horticulture is in his blood.

The 27-year-old won this year’s Hawke’s Bay Young Fruitgrower of the Year title and is enjoying his job as an assistant crop manager for Mr Apple NZ Ltd.

It took some years, however, for Ben to find his calling. He tried the Navy after leaving school, but decided it wasn’t for him and left after finishing his basic training. Working then in residential building, the industry “fell flat” and he was unable to continue his apprenticeship.

“Now, probably for the first time in a decade, I’ve found job satisfaction,” he says of his position at Pilos Orchard in Twyford Road.

Ben is studying through EIT for the National Certificate in Horticulture (Advanced) in fruit production while working full-time.

“I knew such training was available but didn’t realise it was to national certificate level. That’s the same level that builders, electricians and plumbers attain with their apprenticeships – it’s right up there.”

The qualification, he says, is very much about on-the job training.

Cadets attend EIT for 14 full days of classes during the first year of the certificate programme and have seven tutorials in the evening. Mentored by a grower trainer – in Ben’s case, Robbie McCormick – they put what they learn into practice and are assessed on their on-job work.

As a family man, Ben says the three-year commitment to study is a challenging undertaking.

“Paying for your education certainly adds to the motivation,” the first-year cadet laughs. “But it’s definitely been worth it for me to get the training. When you understand why you’re doing something, it breeds passion and to do your best at anything you need passion.”

Ben’s father, Philip James, and grandfather, Richard Root, are “chuffed” that a further generation has gone into orcharding – and they were delighted when he won Hawke’s Bay Young Fruitgrower of the Year.

Noting that more women are heading into fruitgrowing careers, Ben says there could be worse things for his six-year-old daughter Deluca than becoming a fourth generation member of the family to work in the industry.