Teens take major kiwifruit award

Bethlehem College's Alexandra Tomkins and Katikati College head boy Fergus Chinnery have been awarded scholarships by Zespri to help them with their tertiary eduction. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media.

Two Western Bay of Plenty teenagers have each scooped a $15,000 Zespri academic scholarship despite vastly differing levels of orchard experience.

Katikati College head boy Fergus Chinnery has grown up with kiwifruit while Alex Tomkins ventured onto her first orchard only last year. But both fit the scholarship criteria as top year 13 students hoping to pursue careers in the kiwifruit industry.

Alex spent her early teenage years living in South East Asia with her family, and was impressed to spot high quality New Zealand kiwifruit in Singapore and Thailand.

“I was pretty proud when I’d walk into the supermarket and see a big stand of Zespri kiwifruit in the produce aisles,” she says. “It really sparked my interest.”

The spark ignited once she opted to study agricultural and horticultural science at school following her family’s move to Tauranga two years ago.

“It was my favourite subject at school this year,” she says.

Alex also threw herself into school life. As the senior prefect in charge of service and fundraising, she led the charge to raise $14,000 for World Vision this year, as well as collecting thousands of dollars for other charities and 5000 items for Tauranga’s Foodbank.

The violin-playing 17-year-old won the principal’s cup and a netball award at this year’s Bethlehem College prize giving.

However, all roads seemed to lead to kiwifruit. She examined the industry in economics and her statistics teacher had the class study tree girdling.

“Even though I haven’t grown up on an orchard or lived on one, they’re all around me in the Bay of Plenty.

“My dream job? Being able to work in a primary industry, to be a CEO in the future, putting New Zealand products on the world stage.”

Consequently, the 17-year-old is bound for Massey University to complete a bachelor in agri commerce, majoring in international agri business.

Fellow scholarship winner Fergus Chinnery wonders if his good fortune had anything to do with the four-leaf clover science fair project he completed four years ago. His experiment, which won a regional award, successfully cloned the lucky leaves.

Next year, he will head to Victoria University to complete a science degree majoring in biotechnology as well as cell and molecular bioscience.

At age 17, Fergus says being raised on a kiwifruit orchard led to a natural interest in kiwifruit genetics and inspired him to study biology. It also propelled him towards laboratory-based work.

“I work on the orchard and it is hard work. I wanted to get a job where it’s not so physically hard.

“There’s been massive development in new varieties, such as red kiwifruit, and that’s something that really interests me. And I definitely don’t like the taste of kiwifruit so one day, hopefully I can make some I do like to eat.”

Among his trophy haul at the recent Katikati College prize giving night were awards for leadership, drama, top overall student and one for unselfish service to the school.

While at university, he hopes to join an overseas student exchange programme but ultimately hopes to stay in New Zealand.

“Why would you want to leave?” he asks. In the meantime, he has a summer of kiwifruit work to look forward to on the family orchard.

Zespri Grower and External Relations General Manager Dave Courtney says this year’s scholarship winners stood out among a field of 117 applicants from around New Zealand.

“It’s exciting to see young people of this calibre eager to enter our industry,” says Dave. “They are smart and driven, they’re natural leaders, but they’re also well-rounded, thoroughly decent citizens who have already contributed significantly to our community.

“Just imagine how they might help to shape our future.”

The successful candidates will each receive $5000 a year towards their tertiary studies, as well as industry mentoring and support over a three-year period.