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From hospitality to horticulture

Kaitiaki project a far cry from Melbourne scene.

When Covid-19 struck, Joana Devine and Fraser Brown were happily ensconced in the Melbourne hospitality scene.

Both had jobs in top establishments, they had just signed a one-year lease on an apartment and were filling it with all their “perfect” bits and pieces.

It seems a far cry from where they are now but they are philosophical about having the rug pulled out from under their feet, and are grateful to be in Gisborne with family.

The couple, who typically work alongside each other in the hospitality industry as a chef and front-of-house combo, are now part of the Tairawhiti Economic Support Package Redeployment Programme.

They are working together in the kaitiaki (guardianship) project.

It is nothing new to Joana, who is a qualified horticulturist but has more recently been working as a chef.

“Gardening was my first job as a 14-year-old so I feel I have done a full circle,” she said.

While in their mandatory two-week quarantine in Auckland in early June, they signed up online with the Ministry of Social Development and were scoping jobs.

Both applied for the kaitiaki project as they were keen to work, gain new skills and gather qualifications.

“We realised we were at the beginning of a wave of unemployment as some of the first out after being given the chop,” Fraser said.

Once back in Gisborne they bought a bell tent, kitted it out and are living off the grid on papakainga (original home) family land at Mangatu.

“It's glamping at its best,” Joana said.

“We always talked about living off-grid but didn't think it would be this soon.”

Fraser said it showed how quickly things could change.

“Whatever plans you have can so easily be cast aside,” he said.

“We are very lucky to be here in New Zealand and particularly Gisborne, where normal, everyday life is functioning.”

Joana and Fraser enjoy the diversity their work brings — from dune planting to nursery work, study and more.

Their studies have included first aid training, effective communication, hazard control and health and safety, with traffic control and Growsafe training coming soon.

“It is so nice to be learning new things like this,” Fraser said.

Joana feels the new qualifications could so easily be the difference between getting a new job or not.

“It could just be the edge we need. With everything happening so quickly it is enjoyable to retrain, refresh and redirect our energy.”

They are also enjoying the diversity of their kaitiaki project team.

“It is a real melting pot of young and old and there is always a conversation going on about something that we can learn from,” said Joana.

“They are a great team to be a part of. The work certainly brings with it a different level of pressure and stress than the hospitality world.”

Joana is thriving in her return to horticulture.

“As a chef you are working with a finite product as opposed to the garden where you nurture something living that brings aesthetic value to yourself and others.”

Both would love to continue in horticultural work but say with the world changing so much, and so quickly, it is difficult to know what their future holds.

The $23.755 million Redeployment Programme is a response to the impacts of Covid-19 and is aimed at providing work and training for up to 200 people. It is funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, administered by the Provincial Development Unit and overseen by Gisborne District Council. The bigger goal for those on the programme is to help them find work in the short term, while learning new skills, and qualifications, with the opportunity of meaningful, long-term employment.

REDEPLOYED TOGETHER: Joana Devine and Fraser Brown working the herb garden as part of their work in the Tairawhiti Economic Support Package Redeployment Programme kaitiaki project. Picture by The Black Balloon