Reviving horticulture education in Katikati

The teacher behind Katikati College’s new horticulture programme is Hilary Johnson. Photo: Merle Foster.

What began as a project to create a new, innovative and attractive horticulture course for Katikati College students has morphed into offering education and pathways to employment for the wider community.

Teacher Hilary Johnson took on KKC’s horticulture department two years ago, when subject enrolments were dwindling but the local horticulture industry was screaming out for workers.

“Horticulture in schools doesn’t provide what the industry needs, or what tertiary providers need. “Traditionally, it’s been gardening – while every kid should learn how to grow vegetables, 16-17-year-olds should be learning something way more relevant to the industry,” says Hilary.

Personalised learning

She’s designed a modular, flexible, cross-curricular and future-focused programme where students personalise their learning by picking their own subjects. For example, in one class students individually learn topics from science to business studies, marketing, finance, cashflow, futureproofing, innovation, sustainability, robotics and coding – via several specialist teachers in the same time slot. “Students choose what they want to do, and this can take them down a variety of pathways. It offers opportunities for students wishing to go straight into work, those seeking cadetships and further training, and those looking to go to university to secure a career in horticulture at the highest levels.”

Hilary’s classes also offer real-world learning and industry involvement, with out-of-school learning such field trips the norm. This year students have visited a honey-processing plant, hydroponics and tissue culture propagators, an under-cover blueberry operation, a maturity-testing lab, nurseries, orchards, packhouses, King Seeds and been exposed to drones and technology. “Some students have done paid work with Zespri contractor Start AFresh, working on real-world research that has purpose, instead of a science experiment.”

But while the college’s horticulture subject went from 19 enrolments in 2018 to 58 this year, and is forecast to hit 80 in 2020 – something occurred to Hilary. “We realised there are people out there who don’t have access to this sort of training and education – and we needed to do something for the whole community, rather just for the college.”

The result is Katikati Innovative Horticulture Trust – which is fundraising to build a new horticulture block on the college grounds to educate both school students and local youth not in paid work or education. “In the BOP and Katikati we’ve got too many people who aren’t employed or in education. Figures show 30 per cent of people aged above 15 in the Katikati community have no qualifications whatsoever.”

Positive change

She cites high travel costs and no local training venues as barriers to education. “And the fact is horticulture is hugely significant to our country and this region – and this industry will actually require fewer unskilled people and more skilled people in future due to robotics and automation.

“So the trust’s aiming to bring the community into this programme to improve youth employability, and support needs of the industry – and altogether make a positive change. We’ll run this free, NEET-specific training separately, but alongside our school programme, using other providers and expertise who will team up with us. We won’t do it as a school – but we will host it.” Hilary says education will go up to a diploma course above Level 3 and lead participants directly to a career pathway or a job.

“Our vision is to be the centre of horticultural excellence in the BOP, and ultimately NZ.”

The trust’s new horticulture ‘barn’ will cost $302,000 to construct and $90,000 annually to run. It’ll be trust-owned but situated on school land owned by the Ministry of Education, by agreement.

“Later on we want to build a nursery on-site so we can be self-sustainable financially, to run without asking for money or being dependent on anyone.” With a full business plan, the trust has support from Zespri, NZKGI, Priority1, and a number of industry leaders plus Katikati horticultural businesses – and financial pledges of $200,000 for the new facility. See:

Subscribe to our weekly Newsletter