Howdy! My name is Taylor and I originally hail from Golden, Colorado, in the USA, but have spent the last 11 years in the Northeast of the country, seven of those being in NYC.
I arrived in NZ last November, when Covid wasn’t a word with which most of us were familiar. I have been lucky enough to have been an employee here Kings Seeds for the last (almost) 4 months. As my time here sadly comes to an end, I wanted to share a little bit of my experience working for a Kiwi-family-owned business as an American on the Working Holiday Visa.
I am 30 years old, the age limit of the visa, and was referred to the job by a wonderful friend, who I had met via her mother, while I was working in the Marlborough Sounds, where her mother lives. The Kiwi-Kindness, as I’ve begun to call it, has been too good to me. I started at the end of July as a temporary supplemental worker, just as the “busy season” would usually be getting underway. Truth of the matter is, as Karen May has discussed in a previous blog post, the busy season started months ago, during Lockdown, and hadn’t let up. Despite the bombardment of orders, the Kiwi-hospitality that I was shown was incredible. On my first day, someone from each department (including the two owners), walked me through every aspect of the company: from the intake of the seed from cargo trucks, how home-gardener vs commercial orders are processed, production procedure, how the catalogue gets made, to even how and from where Gerard sources seed. I have never experienced such transparency and inclusivity within a company and it was a wonderful way to start. In the USA, as a temporary employee, the information given to me about the inner-workings of the company would be on a “need-to-know basis,” and would be very limited.
Perhaps the coolest part of Kings Seeds is how everything is done by a human being, and not by a machine, as I was expecting. Every single seed packet and commercial order is manually filled by member of the production team. There is a hopper, used for bulkier seeds and 100g bulk packets, but it is manually operated. My favorite part of the production process are the antique spoons used to fill the individual home-gardener seed packets. There are 14 different sizes and the seeds need to be heaped, level or raised on the spoon, according to the all-knowing excel spreadsheet. In addition to the spoon size and spoonful size, the spreadsheet tells production how many seeds should be in each packet. If you haven’t checked out Kings Seeds’ Instagram, you are missing out, as there is a ridiculously adorable video of Jordie, grandson of the owners, filling a seed packet with one of the spoons.
But if you ask me, Jordie isn’t even the most lovable member of Kings Seeds, as that title belongs to the one and only Chester. If you’ve ever been in to see us on a Friday, you’ve likely been greeted by a big black Labrador named Chester. He has probably greeted you with a gentle chew on your arm, followed by licking your legs, if they are bare. Chester is one-of-a-kind in his love for avocados and his neck rolls and shiny fur are proof of his addiction. At work, Chester is the apple of my eye and I fawn over him a great deal, as I would definitely be a dog owner if I wasn’t traveling. That and dogs at work are not commonplace in the states. I would be remiss to not mention Chester in reflection on my time at Kings Seeds as his little tail wags and strolls around the office always made my day.
Outside of working hours, I have gotten to have some fun with my human co-workers. Kings Seeds has two teams at the RSA Quiz Night, the Germinators, and The Seedy G’s, quite good names for seed-folk if you ask me. There are drinks and food, and some attempts to trick the other team into putting down a wrong answer. It gets a little rowdy and a wee bit competitive, and the next day there is no shortage of smack talk as we pick orders. Kings Seeds also has a Thursday evening croquet team, which I have been lucky enough to be a substitute on, and a golf team that plays on Wednesdays. After attending a few events, I now more fully understand how good kiwis are at giving each other a hard time and “taking the piss,” as they say. No one takes themselves too seriously and I absolutely love that about Kiwi culture. No one is immune to getting teased and everyone knows how to take it as well as they dish it. This was such a breath of fresh air coming from the land where most people take themselves, and whatever they do, way too seriously. Americans can definitely learn a thing or two from Kiwis in that regard.
Speaking of taking things too seriously, my poor co-workers were exposed to my progressive political views, which only became more and more amplified as the 2020 USA Presidential Election loomed nearer and nearer. When it came to the Kiwi election, everyone had their positions and views, but as soon as the election was over, no one was bitter, no one was angry, no one even spoke about it, either positively or negatively, out of respect, I am guessing, for those whose party did not do well. This blew my mind. Even though the USA has become increasingly more divided since the 2016 election, there has not been a time in my 30 years on earth where people didn’t get angry or bitter after an election, and now, the political climate is such that some workplaces in the USA have flat out banned any talk of politics. The New Zealand 2020 election was certainly heated and there was a lot at stake, but there was neither worry of riots nor were their cries of voter fraud from the losing parties. It’s remarkable. At the same time, these laid-back Kiwis are able to take themselves, their health and their neighbor’s health seriously enough to wear masks and honor social distancing guidelines. Meanwhile, in the USA, people believe their individual freedom is more important than the well-being of their neighbors. In the USA, what should be taken seriously isn’t and what shouldn’t be taken seriously is. I must say that my Kings Seeds co-workers have been incredibly patient and kind to me as I experienced so many emotions throughout each day regarding what is happening in my country. They asked questions, they offered hopeful outlooks and mostly, they reminded me how lucky we all are to be in this incredible country, and they are absolutely correct in that.
This job has granted me the opportunity to not only work with Kiwis, but to live alongside them, and to cultivate my own sort of kiwi life. At my only other job in NZ, working in Reception and Front of House at “luxury” lodge in the Marlborough Sounds, I met well-off Kiwis from all over the country, as well as tourists from all over the world. That was a wonderful experience but nothing compares to actually settling down in a town and getting to experience life as Kiwis live it. Learning to adapt to the pace of life being lived around you is my favorite part of traveling. While living with a wonderful Kiwi woman, whose own children have recently flown the nest, I've settled into my own rhythm after work of yoga and cooking. I’ve met families who have been here for 5 generations, others that found Katikati as a respite from hectic city life in Auckland, and some that moved here after marrying someone who has roots here. I’ve gotten to surf with locals at Waihi beach, some who are 13 and others who are in their 70s. They are always friendly and happy to share the waves.
And I've been invited to “call-in whenever” by co-workers. Calling in isn’t really a thing in the USA, but I love it and will be taking it back with me, whenever that day comes. In the states, one can drop by, but it is quick and has a specific purpose. When you meet someone for coffee, it is usually at a café, as our hospitality does not compare to that of Kiwis. To round it all out, I’d say life in a small, rural Kiwi town, from what I’ve experienced, seems to be about enjoying each day, the beautiful nature around you, and the friends and family you love, and spending time outside doing activities you love. I hope wherever I end up, I live my life in this way.
I want to thank everyone at Kings Seeds for letting me be a part of such an incredible team and work culture. I will miss our Cuppas and Tuesday morning meetings, which always provide a good laugh. I will miss learning something new about seeds, flowers and vegetables each day. I will miss hearing about what everyone was up to over the weekend and new developments with the grandchildren....