18 Nov 2016

Hard work bears fruit across generations

From Regional Wrap, 9:20 pm on 18 November 2016

Fruit growing roots run deep in the Gilchrist family – with Jack Gilchrist joining forces with his grandad John to become a fifth-generation orchardist in Central Otago.

Jack and John Gilchrist

Jack and John Gilchrist Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Willowbrook Orchard is nestled on the slopes that lead down to the mighty Clutha River in Roxburgh.

John Gilchrist has been growing fruit there for over 50 years and was joined by his 22-year-old grandson, Jack, four years ago. They form a formidable team.

“We got on very well together,” John says.

“We never have a word of anger at all, we flow very well together.

“He is a huge asset.”

Jack said he used help out on the orchard in the holidays and decided to get stuck in full-time when he finished school.

"[He] does all the mowing and spraying and he's also the maintenance officer so any issues we just pass onto him" John says with a grin.

Jack is also developing his own 4-hectare orchard and this year came third in the Young Grower of the Year competition.  

Their main crop is apricots but they also grow cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, pears and strawberries.  Fruit fit for export goes to a local packhouse and the rest is sold at the Dunedin Farmers Market every Saturday.

"It's a bit of a commitment, we leave here at about 3am 12 months of the year, but it's a good money earner and it's a social outlet, I enjoy talking to the people who buy your product," John says.

John’s grandfather George established the orchard in the early 1900s and John – who started working on it the day before he turned 15 – says he remembers the days before tractors, when a horse was used to do the heavy moving.

Other major changes over the years include the advent of overhead irrigation, moving from wooden to hydra ladders.

Jack may decide to take over the orchard one day, and RNZ asked him what he would change if he did.

“I would get rid of all the vulcan [apricot variety]”, he quipped.

“[It’s] like chewing a bit of old rubber.”

“All my hard work,” John said with a laugh.