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  • Lyn Larsen

Joe Gock

Joe Gock (Mo lock Gock at birth) states to be the oldest grower in NZ. At the age of 94 I believe him. When asked how he knows, he said “Howe Young told me." He’s a humble man who is all about giving back to his community and pretty switched on at his ripe old age. Joe is another lovely grower I’ve been lucky enough to assist with in regard to his compliance work for the past 7 years. He and his wife were (and still are) quite an icon in many ways throughout the Horticultural sector.




Tell me about your family and coming to NZ

“I was born in 1928 in Canton, China. My father came to New Zealand to make a fresh start like so many other Chinese immigrants. Back then you had to apply to come into the country through an agent. Once a permit was granted, you were given a new name. Why? I don't know but we just accepted it. Dad was born Loy Fat Gock but given the name Kwong Sing upon arrival.


Dad joined two other Chinese immigrants and leased some land down in Hawkes Bay where they started their market garden business. Mum and I stayed back in Canton. It was during the Second World war, luckily Mum and I did not really feel the impact however could hear the sound of war in the distance. Here in NZ, my father’s business was thriving due to supplying vegetables for the war effort. He, like many other growers, leased more land to maintain supply so it was quite lucrative. After a few years of getting established, Mum (Young Hor Lee) and I followed. It was 1940 and we travelled by ship. It took a month to get here and I remember being sea sick the whole journey. I was 13 at the time and didn’t know any English. I was sent straight to Mangateretere School in Clive where I was very fortunate to avoid being bullied due to the school Master introducing me to all the students and requesting I was to be looked after and helped to learn English.” When I asked Joe what was the biggest lifestyle change coming to NZ... he said the cold! "We had to heat our feet up in hot water in the mornings before putting our socks and shoes on. Mum and Dad branched out on their own when we arrived and my brother David was born in 1941.”


How did you end up in Auckland

“As a family we visited Auckland for the holidays to visit a cousin. He convinced mum and dad to move up so they bought a lease of land from the local Maori’s right next door to my farm here today in Pukaki Road, Mangere. It was 70 acres and cost £4,000.00. We came with an old small Ferguson Tractor with a rotary hoe and a draught horse.


The first season was tough, we planted the farm out in cauliflowers and cabbages and it all got Club Root – a disaster.


Because we couldn’t grow brassicas, we concentrated on peas, carrots, pumpkins, kumara and watermelons which paid off. At one point we were the biggest pea growers in the country, until Wattie's frozen peas were introduced. We were also the largest carrot growers for a time, and the first to build a carrot washer, we purchased 60lbs of carrots seed a year back then.


All plantings, irrigating and weeding was done by hand. Back then no chemicals were used on peas and carrots and we employed the local woman folk to help harvest the crops."


We were also the first to store kumara so it could be sold all year round.



When did you go out on your own?

“As the years went on my brother David and I went on to purchase the 50 acres of land I live on now, in Mangere. I eventually bought him out as he wanted to branch out to a different career and Fay came along...”


Fay

There’s no doubt Fay was Joe’s rock - the tributes and photos on the wall say it all. The succession of them both would not have been without her. Sadly it’s been 5 years since her passing. When I asked Joe what was his happiest memories, he said ”everyday…..she was and is irreplaceable."



How did you meet?

“Fay worked full time in her parents fruit shop in Karangahape Road, Auckland. We were introduced to each other, went out for 6-12 months and decided to get married." Dates and moments are a bit foggy for Joe but they were very happy in their 62 years of marriage and he enjoys spending time with his 3 daughters and 2 grandchildren who remind him of Fay every day"



Working together

Fay and Joe worked tirelessly together as a tight team, both using their resourcefulness to become successful. He states “Fay would do all the rotary hoeing, she’d come in covered in dirt and dust so I purchased her a flash new tractor with air conditioning and a radio etc, that tractor was her baby.


We used to grow the biggest watermelons, they were huge, one was 30lbs! We had a plan... we’d go to the seed suppliers - Yates, Coopers and Winston's and purchase seeds. Other growers would ask the suppliers what seeds we bought that season and purchased the same. They never managed to grow watermelons as big, sweet and juicy as ours. It took a few years for them to work out we actually imported our seed from the States (he laughs.)


We grew early pumpkins and to try and sell more, we carved words in them like ‘Happy New Year’. This took off and we came up with a scheme that if the suppliers wanted them. they had to increase the order to get supplied.


We were the biggest Brussel Sprout grower for a while when we first started out. We visited a Brussel sprout farm on our honeymoon and the grower (who was a friend of my father’s) gave us some seed. These took off and we continued for years using our own seed every season.


A Japanese supplier came to NZ to study our business one year and he asked why out of all the NZ suppliers, our beans were the freshest? Our trick was to cut and chill within 2 hours of cutting, not sitting out in the paddock till the end of the day. It involved many trips to and from from the paddock to the chiller but well worth the quality and outcome.”



The Kumara Story

How could my story not include how Joe and Fay Gock saved the NZ Kumara industry and earned themselves a Queens Service Award in 2015, and the Bledisloe Cup in 2013! It’s worth a watch, what a gorgeous couple. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/82845069/mr-and-mrsgock-saved-the-kumera--their-story-on-film


What do you do with yourself now Joe

“I still grow Rhubarb, about 2 acres. I remember my highest price was $100 per 10kg, nowadays it’s down to $50 - we’ve had issues this year like everyone I guess with the weather. I only weed now and get others to do the rest. It’s a bit boring but I like to invent and try new things (he says with a chuckle).


I love my family visiting and still see my brother. He’s 80 now and still comes to my property with Rotary, cuts firewood and donates the profits to charity.”


Generosity

You never leave Joe’s house without a gift and wise advice. Today’s advice - not to touch the toothpicks when you go to a restaurant or you’ll get Covid.


As generous as always I left with a hug, honey from his hives and my very own packet of toothpicks to keep that Covid away! A great man with a great sense of humour.

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