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From High School Teacher to Tomato Grower

From High School Teacher to Tomato Grower

From High School Teacher to Tomato Grower

 

James and Jae Kang have been growing tomatoes for the NZ market since 2001.  How and why this happened is truly a moving story.

James grows the tomato variety Alfred from Monsanto in his plastic house.  The variety suits the greenhouse and crop cycle.

 

Originally from Korea, James and Jae decided to immigrate to New Zealand in the late 1990’s.  Jae and James met at university in Korea in the 1980’s.  They married and started their family together, they have two children a son and daughter.   Their son, Taewon, was born with severe autism as well as intellectual disabilities. 

Their decision to immigrate was reached as they felt the environment, to care for Taewon, were limited in Korea, and New Zealand offered a brighter future for him. 

 James likes growing Merlice in the 1400 m2 glasshouse.  It is compact in nature and suits the height of the glasshouse as well as the added bonus of a high yield potential.

 

 

James and Jae Kang have been growing tomatoes for the NZ market since 2001.  How and why this happened is truly a moving story.

Originally from Korea, James and Jae decided to immigrate to New Zealand in the late 1990’s.  Jae, a high school art teacher, and James, a high school maths teacher met at university in Korea in the 1980’s.  They married and started their family together, they have two children a son and daughter.   Their son, Taewon, was born with severe autism as well as physical disabilities.  He has the behavioural age of a 2-3-year-old.

Their decision to immigrate was reached as they felt the facilities, to care for Taewon, were limited in Korea, and New Zealand offered a brighter future for him. 

In 1999 Jae came to New Zealand with the children, they lived in Henderson for 6 months before James could leave Korea to join them.  I can’t begin to imagine how hard this would’ve been, living in a foreign country, the language barrier as well as caring for a severely autistic seven-year-old and nine-year-old daughter.  To highlight how difficult it was for Jae, Taewon would never sleep for more than 3 hours at a time, once he was awake for 5 consecutive days and nights!

In 2000 James joined the family in New Zealand.  He looked into the teaching profession and began to gain the necessary qualifications.  It was extremely difficult for James to pass these papers with limited English.  James could’ve spent a few more years qualifying as a high school math's teacher, but after an introduction to a Korean greenhouse grower he and Jae looked at the option of purchasing a business growing tomatoes in Waiuku.

This appealed to James for two reasons; the language barrier he had at the time, and it would give him flexibility to help Jae with Taewon, who needed 24-hour care and supervision

In 2001 James and Jae purchased a property in Waiuku, South Auckland.  The property had a 1400 m2 Faber Greenhouse on it.  Since then they have been growing large, loose, round tomatoes for the local market.  In 2015 James expanded the operation by custom building another 1000m2 plastic house on the property.

I first met James in 2008, I fondly remember how clean and tidy his greenhouse was.  The plant work is always up to date and crop always strong and healthy.  In the early days James had to learn how to grow by talking to other Korean growers.  There is a strong bond between the Korean growing community and they always find the time to help each other.  On planting days, they all help each other plant, they have lunch together lunch and talk.  James noted how helpful Derek Scholfield and Steve Gellert, the owner of Gellert Nurseries, have been to him.

It was over the next 5 or so years, selling plants to James, that I realized he was not just a very good grower but that he was well respected amongst his peers.   James went on to become a part time Communications Assistant for Gellert Nurseries.  James undertook this role for 4 years and did a fantastic job. Unfortunately, due to the resignation of his assistant grower, he had to go back to work full time at his farm.

James and Jae have been growing since 2001, with no plans for retirement just yet.  James has a measured approach when it comes to growing.  He has become a very successful and respected grower, impressive for a maths teacher who had no previous growing experience before coming to New Zealand.

 

 

 

Jae has also become very well known for her Art work.  When Taewon was 21 he went into residential care (he returns home on weekends) Jae decided to go back to University to study and refresh her passion for art, she is currently finishing a post-graduate diploma at Elam School of Fine Arts.   Jae has combined her sculptural background with her Korean drawing technique, creating what Jae describes as “drawing installations”

 

Jae uses recycled irrigation lines to create some amazing sculptures which are displayed at art galleries all across the country.   Jae welcomes people to touch her sculptural work, in the hope to give the opportunity to people with impaired vision to get a sensory touch to art.

 

James and Jae are truly remarkable and selfless, both immigrated to a foreign country for their children, setting up a new business in a totally unfamiliar industry is a truly inspiring story.  They have contributed hugely to New Zealand and we are better off for having migrants like James and Jae here.  They are the perfect example of devoted parents willing to work tirelessly to provide for their family.

I am so glad James and Jae decided to become growers, I have had the pleasure of becoming a colleague and friend of James.  I look forward too many more growing conversations with James in the future.

 

Article written by Stefan Vogrincic, Grower2Grower

Billy

I have been good relationship with this fantastic family and be fascinated with their musical talent.