Managing a large apple orchard and studying horticulture is half a world away from Steven Hartley’s previous career path but, coming from the investment banking world, he can’t think of a better way of life.
From the Scottish Borders, Steven didn’t know much about apple growing before moving to Hawke’s Bay with his New Zealand-born wife.
Natalie is part of the family-owned and operated Taylor Corporation Ltd which exports apples grown on 300 hectares of orchard. So while the couple planned settling in Auckland or Wellington, it was perhaps inevitable that they were attracted to the fruit production industry.
Steven grew up surrounded by countryside and he considered a career in forestry before completing a degree in information management at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University College.
“It was just when computers were making a big boom and everyone was pushing me that way.”
He met Natalie on her OE – they were working for the same investment company, attended a charity fundraiser together and found they shared an interest in travel, art and a rural lifestyle.
When her work visa expired, the couple’s plan was to spend a couple of months in Hawke’s Bay. However, Steven was soon drafted into the family business, working in quality control and supervising staff. Last year, the 38-year-old was made a foreman, responsible for a 35ha block south of Napier.
Given his business background, he easily manages the paperwork and enjoys motivating the permanent and seasonal New Zealanders along with the Pacific Islanders who help bring the harvest in. These seasonal workers are “country-based, fun-loving and have a good work ethic”, and he can relate to those qualities.
Keen to absorb as much as he can, he signed up for a horticulture cadetship earlier this year, studying for the National Certificate in Horticulture (Fruit Production) through EIT. Cadets are employed full-time, studying part-time over three years. They attend block courses and their work is assessed by a workplace trainer.
“I definitely enjoy EIT,” Steven says of his study programme. “There’s quite a lot of work involved but I’m getting through it. The Taylor Corporation guys do a good job explaining things but the schooling is just the other side of it.”
With the recent arrival of Euan, the couple’s first child, and having purchased and planted out their own apple block west of Napier, the Hartleys are a busy family.
Looking back, Steven jokes about possible concerns centred on his skill set when he started working on orchards.
“I think they thought here comes an investment banker, he won’t be able to hold his secateurs the right way up.”
But, he says, he is a motivated individual, and with just one more year to complete his certificate studies, he is already thinking about progressing to the Diploma in Horticulture, also offered at EIT.