Covid-catchup with Austin Singh Purewal

11 May 2020

HortNZ is speaking with young people in the industry to see what they have been up to during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Last year, Austin Singh Purewal won the Young Vegetable Grower of the Year competition, aged only 18. He’s working for T&G Global in their key accounts team.

Austin’s a big advocate for mental health awareness for young Kiwis within the primary industries. He’s working on a social media platform that will give young people a taste of what our industry has to offer as well as giving them support. Watch this space.

Who’s in your bubble?

Well it's my dad, my older brother, my younger sister, and a few thousand plants and seedlings.

What have you been doing in the lockdown?

I've still been working in my role at T&G Global where I've been procuring produce from all around the country. That's produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum, and sweet corn - although for sweet corn we're coming to a tail end of the season. I've also been isolating myself in the cab of the tractor here on the family farm. I've been helping out my brother with some groundwork and getting prepared for the winter season - although my brother would say all I've been doing is giving him a headache.

What do you think are the industry’s major challenges with COVID-19?

Well, I think there are going to be many challenges. Challenges such as our export market access and making sure that we have open channels to export markets where we can send the world's most premium produce. And of course, that's premium produce that is grown right here in New Zealand.

I also think there's going to be challenges with the diminishing farming society. I've already heard of growers here in Pukekohe who are having to sell-up because of the current circumstances. It's not only farmers here in Pukekohe, it's all around the country. So I think as an industry we're really going to have to wrap our arms tight, and look after one another.

I also think, touching on looking after one another, that one of the key challenges is going to be our mental health. We're going to have to work together to support one another's mental health. Althought we can offer all these websites and phone number services, we all know that many farmers aren’t going to have the access, or be willing to put in that much effort into looking after themselves. This is that we know has been an issue in the past for our farming society.

Simply having a five-minute conversation with your peers and saying "Hey, how you getting on? Is there anything you need help with?" That will help out a lot of males that find it quite hard to reach out for help. Especially if you can pick out that they're seeming a bit down, that might be the time where they really do need some help. So I think it's going to be that those are some of the key challenges that we're going to have to face together.

austin purewal
Austin with 'his babies'. He says that he's starting to miss cutting cauliflowers

What do you think the opportunities might be, once we’re further through COVID-19?

I think we're going to see increase in demand for fresh produce domestically as we see more families cooking wholesome meals at home. I also think there might be a possibility that we're going to see an increase in demand in our export markets. We've got to make sure that, as an industry, we're well prepared for when demand does increase, and that we can hit those markets hard and fast.

What have you been doing after the competition finals in October 2019?

Well I think that in the past six months, I've just grown a lot stronger in my role at T&G. I've created new relationships and friendships within our industry. I've been able to go and spark up conversations that I've been able to gain some knowledge from. Knowledge that I'll be able to use to create a smarter and stronger future one day.

Any ideas about what the rest of 2020 will bring for you? Any plans around work or study, or it is too early to tell, given current uncertainties?

Well I think it's safe to say I'd better go get a haircut. I don't quite trust dad yet when he's got the old hair cutting machine set up with the number one. So I'd better go out and get my hair done.

Na, in all seriousness, I've been wanting to work on something to do with mental health services for young Kiwis within the primary industries. Not only within the horticulture industry, but in all primary industries. Speaking with a some mates and a other younger people in the industry, we can find it quite hard to reach out for help whenever we need it, and also to access help as well.

I want to build a platform for young Kiwis within the industry that want to reach out and have help, and to just make it a lot easier and more affordable to access help in the first place.

Something that I’m going to release in the next week or so is going to be a social media platform that I've been working on. The point of this is going to be sharing my insights on what I get up to in the industry on a regular basis, so I can go out and share what a young person like me does in the industry. I’ll be able to give other young people who are interested in the industry, or who want to get into the industry, a taste of what our industry has to offer. All I can say is to stay tuned and that will be released soon. I'm going to try working with some other industry members also. You'll have to find out in the next week or so.

Anything else that you want to add?

I would also like to say that if you are a farmer out there, and you're struggling - hang in there, and don't be afraid to reach out for help.

We're gonna get through this together. So stay safe and Kia Kaha. Thank you.