Friendship Force forms bond with New Zealand farmers | TheFencePost.com

Friendship Force forms bond with New Zealand farmers

by Barbara Jo Guilford

Cheyenne, Wyo.

The January cold and wind has caused another reverie into my experiences in New Zealand during our Cheyenne Friendship Force Exchange, Oct. 15-31, 2001. It was spring on the other side of the equator and I was again in farm country during my favorite time of the year. Our group consisted of 15 ambassadors from Wyoming, Colorado, and Washington determined not to live in fear after the Sept. 11 tragedy. Warm hospitality, friendship, scenic grandeur, another perspective on rural life, and an outpouring of emotion ” true valentines ” were our rewards for courage.

New Zealand’s isolation has led to unique varieties of flora and fauna.

When our group arrived in Pakuranga, a suburb of Auckland, on Oct. 17, we thought we had arrived in paradise. The neighborhood was in full bloom. Orchids, camellias, wisteria, multi-color honeysuckles, lilacs, hibiscus, tulips, hyacinths, freesia, hydrangea, flowering shrubs ” soon we realized we could not take time to smell all the flowers.

Many of the flower varieties were unknown to our group. Take the red flowers ” there are bottle brush plants, Chilean fire bushes and the pohutakawa, New Zealand’s Christmas tree. New Zealanders were obsessed with gardening; consequently, there were enchanting gardens in every nook and cranny.

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We visited several of the formal gardens in both of the areas where we experienced week long home stays. As we proceeded south to Hawera near Mt. Egbert (sometimes called Mt. Taranaki) we began to notice the community festivals celebrating the arrival of spring flowers, especially the rhododendrons. Sharyn and Jim King’s garden near Inglewood, contained 140 different rhododendrons which flower from early August until late November. Foreign visitors were plentiful even though the weather was soupy.

New Zealand farmers have diversified their operations by making their gardens available for tours for extra farm income. Fresh garden vegetables, raised by farmers for sale at roadside markets, graced our dinner table every night. New Zealand wines were a mainstay at meals. The country has long acted as a greenhouse to accommodate the British Commonwealth nations.

Our Friendship Force group visited Kawau Island northeast of Auckland.While en route we had the opportunity to learn about another unusual farm ” the Pah Fish Farm. Snapper and kingfish were being bred and raised to market commercially.

Kingfish looked more viable since they had grown to over 12 inches in length in six months. The water temperature of the tanks at Pah farm needed constant monitoring.

Manipulating light and water temperature in the tanks has led to keeping the snapper fertile for longer periods of times. The fertile eggs are collected as they float to the surface of the tanks and transferred to feeding tanks. Eventually the fish were transported to a sea cage in Bon Accord Harbor. The sea cage holds the snapper and kingfish for up to four months for acclimatizing before they are released into the wild.

We also visited Mansion House Bay on Kawau Island. The mansion and surrounding gardens were filled with exotic trees our group had never seen such as the famous Kauri, which had once clothed the island. Trees had been imported from all over the world by Sir George Grey, once governor of New Zealand. Animals such as flightless wekas and wallabies still thrive on Kawau Island, but the zebras, monkeys, deer and Chinese pheasants (which Grey introduced) are now gone.

The coasts of New Zealand are the home to many varieties of unusual birds. Near Auckland we saw the Gannets nesting. After they have hatched their young, they fly home to Australia, which is over a thousand miles away.

We visited the Miranda Bird Sanctuary and learned about the Wrybill who flies south to north and south again day and night ” thousands of miles. We stopped at Kiwi House in Otorohanga with the South Taranaki Friendship Force to view the nocturnal Kiwi, which is found only in New Zealand. The national bird of New Zealand is a fully protected species.

The kiwi’s very existence is threatened by loss of habitat and a host of introduced predators.

The kiwi fruit, once a mainstay of New Zealand agriculture, has also been having troubled times. I talked with Harry and Mary Coombes who have recently given up farming this crop and have instead turned to vine-culture. New Zealand once had a monopoly on kiwi fruit production until they shared knowledge with farmers in California. Competition with California has caused declining prices.

All over New Zealand farmers are diversifying their crops to provide a more stable income in case of low prices. Value-added operations are also part of the trend. Small businesses thrive in the communities throughout the area. We visited Environmental Products LTD at Mahoe which makes fur and leather products from opossums for export. The opossum was brought to New Zealand and soon became a dangerous predator endangering New Zealand’s unusual birds. There were deer and elk farms which export the fur from the horns to nearby Asian countries.

We visited Ian Duffy’s sheep farm at Meremere one Saturday morning to learn about shearing and watch prize winning dogs mustering sheep on the steep, green mountain slopes. We also visited the Cartwright farm to learn about spinning and weaving. Wyoming ambassadors fed baby lambs at Duffey’s farm and kid goats at Cartwrights. Farmers involved in raising sheep have had profitable operations the last few years. Many of the young farmers stay in the area to continue on the family farms.

We visited Wallace Weir’s mechanized cowshed at milking time where 600 cows are milked in one hour ” 60 cows on the rotary platform on each revolution. The farm produced an average daily yield of 14,000 litres during the season, which usually lasts from early October to late April. Weir hires three or four hands at milking time to assist with the operation.

Hawera has the largest milk processing site in the world. Here 145 tankers collect milk from 5,900 farms in the South Taranaki region and deliver over 14 million litres of milk each day to Dairyland. The exported dried milk and cream, and other dairy products of the company provided 10 percent of New Zealand’s total export earnings last year.

The small independent family dairies of the area have declined, but delicious ice cream and cheese was sold at convenience shops all over New Zealand.

New Zealand’s best Valentine was given to our group at the going away parties in Howick and Hawera.

The Howick card read, “Among life’s precious gifts, the one we call friendship …” The Hawera club presented us with a giant card covered with hearts, stars, and Maori art expressing the sentiments of all of the hosts It was red, white and blue. A letter from the mayor read, “May our hospitality match your own, our sights and experiences stay in your minds, and the friendships you foster stay with you always.”