PPBS Case Study - Te Rito Gardens

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Te Rito Gardens is an organic nursery and social enterprise co-operative run by the asert-Tātou Development Trust. Te Rito was formed in 2010 by trustees from around the Wellington region with the aim of providing positive activities to help people get into paid work. The nursery started life as an organic produce farm garden and now grows organic native plants and makes wood products from sustainably sought timber. It specialises in ecosourced riparian and restoration native plants, suitable for the lower North Island. Te Rito grows plants for local schools and community groups and for restorative plantings in the Porirua catchment, which the Greater Wellington Regional Council pays for. It’s currently based at the former Porirua Hospital site off Kenepuru Drive and is soon to shift to new permanent site on a nearby reserve.

Co-ordinator and trustee, Steve Wilson, manages the site and oversees about 20 volunteer workers at any one time. The workers are reimbursed for their expenses and are helped with references and other support into paid work.

The Process

Steve said Paula Warren, a Principal Policy Analyst at the Department of Conservation, encouraged him take part in the Plant Producers Biosecurity Scheme.
He said the Nursery Manual template was pretty self-explanatory and didn’t include any unreasonable requests. Paula was helpful and provided support when required.  The documentation requirements were a challenge due to the time investment required and the literacy levels of many of our volunteer workers, however he understood why documentation was needed.

“I’m a fan of the scheme and couldn’t fault it. I used to be involved with Organic Farms NZ and its local committee and so am very aware that it’s important to manage biosecurity properly.”

New systems introduced

As well as the more formal documentation process, Steve and his team also built new infrastructure and introduced new systems to ensure better cleaning and sterilising.

New infrastructure:

  • Designed and built a new potting table with an impenetrable polyurethane surface which makes cleaning/sterilizing more effective.
  • Rebuilt the floor of the Potting-shed, which was pitted, to enable it to be cleaned more easily.
  • Built a Chlorine bath in which to soak trays and pots overnight. The depleted bleach runs through to a soak pit with bark chip to reduce any environmental impact.

New systems:

  • New plant material coming into Te Rito is now held in an isolated area for a period of time
  • A new mulching regime – mulching pot soil with bark - has been instigated to deal with new weed growth, as Te Rito doesn’t use pre-emergent herbicides.
  • Documenting all inputs and outputs with daily diary entries.
  • Keeping records of seed and plant material for eco-sourcing tracking

“These new systems were all things I knew we needed to do and the scheme helped prompt us to introduce them. It takes us about an extra 30 minutes every day to complete everything but it means that we are taking a more professional approach to nursery activity.”

Staff response

Steve said his staff were pretty positive about the scheme. His priority is ensuring the volunteers are safe and happy and their special needs are being met but the scheme has not posed any particular problems.

“They all understand that getting certified for being biosecure will be a step up for our organisation.”

Suggestions to improve the scheme

Steve said it would be helpful to be given some signage on biosecurity to put up around the nursery.

Potential benefits of the scheme for Te Rito

Steve said that the new processes would make Te Rito’s plants even healthier and the time investment would pay off.

“I think that once we get fully into the routines, which it will be the hardest part, there will be a neutral outcome in terms of the work involved. The extra time invested will be balanced with the rewards.

The PPBS also offered workers to gain new skills and knowledge on best practice biosecurity.

“We are a commercial nursery trying to make a successful business out of this. But we are also training or retraining people to help get them into the paid workforce. We want to teach them the right way, not the quickest way to propagate plants. The biosecurity scheme provides additional useful knowledge and skills which will help us to do that.”


Recommend to others?

Steve said he would definitely recommend to other nurseries.

“We have to value what plant producers do.”