First Fresh News

Hunter a highlight of Freshies awards

It was almost standing room only on Thursday at Matawhero Winery as Te Karaka citrus growers Murray and Wendy Burgess were crowned supreme winners at the annual First Fresh Freshies grower awards.

“Maybe it had something to do with Rachel Hunter being the MC and guest speaker, but late last week when the RSVPs were still coming in thick and fast we hurriedly had to go to plan B and hire a larger marquee” said Ian Albers, managing director of First Fresh.

In the end, nearly 200 people attended.

Now in their fourth year, the Freshies celebrate the achievements of all grower-suppliers over the previous 12 months and reward those who achieve the most outstanding performance across citrus, kiwifruit and persimmons.

“We have an amazing bunch of dedicated loyal growers who we love working with. The Freshies is our way of saying thank you.

“What really struck me about the night was the camaraderie amongst growers and how they really celebrated and encouraged all of the nominees and the winners.”

Mr Albers said it was very rewarding to see success being celebrated in this way.

“Too often we are muted in our acknowledgement of someone else getting the prize but that certainly wasn’t the case on this occasion.”

Murray and Wendy Burgess, the supreme champions, won two categories — navel oranges and satsuma mandarins — and were nominated for a third.

“This was a superb effort in itself, but against the backdrop of an orchard that was badly flooded in June last year, it was an extra special achievement,” Mr Albers said. “Rachel Hunter was in awe of the photo that featured in the Herald last June showing the Burgesses toiling away in the mud.”

Other winners on the night included Wayne Hall, who was awarded the “most outstanding contribution” award for his dedication and effort on orchard as well as his work for the industry as acting chairman of Citrus New Zealand.

Roger Lynch, a grower and contractor, won both the service provider of the year and the unsung hero award for his work and dedication to expanding his operation and servicing more growers in the face of an increasingly tough labour market.

As reported by the Herald last week, Dylan Hall was on hand to accept the Bill Thorpe and First Fresh Scholarship, giving him $5000 towards his university studies in horticulture at Massey University.

“There was no doubt, however, that for a lot of our guests, one of the highlights was Rachel Hunter. Rachel spoke without a script for well over 45 minutes, talking about her life, her experiences and her beliefs,” Mr Albers said.

“She fed off the audience and encouraged questions on any subject including ‘What’s your favourite Rod Stewart song?’ and ‘When will we see another series of Tour of Beauty?’

“I thought she was brilliant on stage reading out the nominees and the winners, and then congratulating the winners as they came on stage to collect their prize.

“She put everyone at ease and was very down to earth.”