Bledisloe Cup for service to horticulture

03:26, Aug 08 2013
Gock Award
GREEN FINGERS: Fay and Joe Gock have received the country’s top horticulture award.

It's a long road from living in a barn to receiving your industry's highest honour.

But market gardeners Joe and Fay Gock have done just that after nearly 60 years in horticulture.

The Mangere couple has received the Bledisloe Cup for services to the industry at Horticulture New Zealand's annual awards dinner.

Gock Award
HEAVY LOAD: A worker’s child struggles to lift a 14kg watermelon at the Gocks’ farm in the 1950s.

The award was first presented by Lord Bledisloe in 1931 and looks very similar to the rugby trophy of the same name.

It was a totally unexpected win.

"We were surprised we nearly fell over backwards," Mrs Gock says.

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The pair, who are both in their 80s, describe their career path as "a hurdle all the way".

Mr Gock came to New Zealand from his native China as a refugee in 1940.

At 16 he began working alongside his father at a market garden in the Hawke's Bay before they moved to Mangere.

Mrs Gock's father ran a fruit shop on Karangahape Rd but she thought she was destined for office work like most girls her age.

It was the 1947 polio epidemic that launched her career in horticulture.

She began working at her father's fruit shop during the mandatory four-month stand-down for all North Island schoolchildren - and never left.

The young couple met at the fruit shop when Mr Gock delivered a load of produce.

They married in 1956 and started their own growing business but government restrictions on Chinese people meant they weren't permitted to own land or build a house.

Instead they lived for many years in a barn on Pukaki Rd.

"For many years we were up to our noses in debt," Mrs Gock says. "It's not just pansies and roses - even the roses have prickles."

Over time their business grew into the largest market garden in Mangere out of nearly 100 others.

The pair led the industry in a number of areas, including growing seedless watermelon, using under-earth heating to grow kumara year-round and placing stickers on individual fruit - the first growers in the world to do so.

They developed a disease-free kumara strain in the 1950s and later donated their stock to Northland farmers after their crops were devastated by black rot.

In the 1980s Mr Gock developed and patented the Gock bushel-sized polystyrene box, which keeps broccoli fresh during transport and is still widely used.

The Gocks now grow a wide range of crops and say they do it for the love of it.

"It's not a job for making money - there never was big bucks in it. Growing healthy food is a service to all mankind," Mrs Gock says.

Mr Gock says the outdoors have always called to him.

"To me, it's a challenge trying to grow things that other people can't grow. We just try to be a couple of steps ahead of the others."

Horticulture New Zealand president Julian Raine says the Gocks are "pioneers" who have contributed decades of "selfless and hugely valuable service" to the industry.

They have provided a great deal of assistance and advice to other growers as well as donating to schools and community groups over the years, he says.

Manukau Courier