Kaoshiung to Pukekohe
Grower Profile, Edward Lee from Lee Wang Hothouse Ltd
In 1996 at the young age of 16, Edward, his parents and sister, Penny, left Taiwan and moved to Manukau, South Auckland. For the first three years they boarded with friends. After this period the family decided they wanted to live in New Zealand permanently.
Edward attended Rosehill College in South Auckland, which just happens to be my old school. In 2000 the family purchased their first family home in Papakura. In 2002 they moved to a property on the outskirts of Papakura which had a small piece of land. The Lee family originates from the Kaoshiung province in Taiwan which is known as a vegetable hub. Edward’s parents come from a growing background and wanted some land to continue growing produce.
In 2004 Edward completed an Electrical Engineering diploma from AUT. It was not easy finding work in his field after he left AUT, so Edward began his working life delivering groceries and working as a waiter. In 2006 he landed a job as a green acre mowing contractor. A year later Edward was employed as an Electrical Apprentice. This was great as Edward had found a job he had studied for. However, after only six months Edward was made redundant, the downturn in the market at that time meant the job was unfortunately short lived.
In 2008 Edward and his parents decided they would like to expand their vegetable growing business so they started looking at greenhouses in the local area. After an extensive search, of at least 20 properties, they found an area of land close to Pukekohe with a 2000m2 plastic house on it. The property was purchased and the Lee family have been growing their ever since.
Edwards Parents Mr and Mrs Lee brought their family to New Zealand for a better life and have contributed immensely to their new country. Mr and Mrs Lee are still actively involved with the growing operations.
Tomatoes have been the main produce grown along with a few short crops of beans. In 2012 the Lee family decided to expand. Apex greenhouses built a state of the art modern 1500m2 glasshouse, which includes hanging gutters and screens. In 2014 the Lee’s moved from growing large loose tomatoes to cherry tomatoes which they successfully grow today supplying MG marketing, with their own brand.
Edward quickly found his feet and knew he needed to keep improving his growing knowledge. He started attending TomatoesNZ conferences. In 2016 Edward became a full time TomatoesNZ board member. Edward thinks being part of the board is great, he is constantly learning how the industry functions and is making good connections to help his business grow. It has taken two years to feel established as a board member, he now understands how important TomatoesNZ’s role is for maintaining and lifting industry levels. Edward said the contribution of the board members, in particular the efforts of Helen Barnes (the TomatoesNZ business manager), is extremely important for NZ greenhouse tomato growers.
Edward faces many challenges. With an eye on the minimum wage increase, taking place shortly, Edward has made the decision to grow Cucumbers in his plastic house. The height of the plastic house means the amount of labour needed, to grow and pick cherry tomatoes, out ways the benefits. As the cherry tomatoes almost touch the ground when picking, it is not only time consuming to pick them but also back breaking work. Edward currently hires 3 full time staff with an additional 2 seasonal workers.
Edward with staff member Brenda, the team leader in the Glasshouse
Edward thinks there is great long-term potential growth for tomatoes in NZ, but support and assistance is required from the government. He thinks exporting is an important aspect for future growth. Edward is keen on food safety and said that, “Being a member of GAP is great as it has made the industry lift its levels and creates good food safety practices.” Edward uses many biological products to control fungus and insect issues, he hopes that dependency on chemicals becomes less and less.
Edward loves to read books and enjoys spending as much time as possible with his wife and their two young children. He likes watching baseball, especially the Taiwanese league. Other sporting interests include basketball and badminton.
Edward loves growing and is especially proud of the fact he grows and provides our community with a safe and tasty product to eat, “It’s what drives me”.
Edward and his family are another example of hard working immigrants who have come to NZ and contributed positively to our community. Edwards sister Penny (right) is another important part of the Lee family growing team
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Article Written by Stefan Vogrincic, Consultant, Grower2Grower