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Bostock NZ – investing in its community

A commitment to supporting its local community is behind Bostock New Zealand’s wellbeing work, aimed both at its own workforce and the people living close to its Hawke’s Bay business.

“Supporting our local community is the best way to ensure stability,” says Rhonda Simpson, the company’s Human Resources Group Manager. “We rely on our community for workers so we want to look after them the best we can. It can be a struggle to find horticulture workers, so we must do all we can to ensure our community is strong and that we’re seen as a desirable employer.”

Bostock New Zealand, owned by organics pioneer John Bostock, owns or controls about 900 hectares of BioGro-certified land around Hawkes Bay, predominantly growing apples as well as squash, maize and onions.

Such an operation requires a strong workforce, particularly during harvest season. A lack of available workers means Bostock New Zealand runs a recognised seasonal employees (RSE) programme, where workers from the Pacific Islands come and work for a season.

However, Rhonda says people from the local community are employed first. “Often our team members will start as a seasonal worker to see if horticulture is what they want to do. Then we’ll move them into permanent employment if they show commitment.

“As well as providing permanent work, we give our people ongoing training and development in conjunction with the Eastern Institute of Technology’s horticulture apprenticeship programmes. They get up-skilled and certificated, which is empowering,” says Rhonda.

Building a sustainable business

Bostock New Zealand’s mission is three-fold, Rhonda says. “To be truly sustainable, we must be financially, environmentally and socially sustainable. Financial sustainability makes sense – we need to be profitable to be a strong business that can provide stable long-term employment to local people.

“But being environmentally and socially sustainable is important too, because being a sustainable business is not just about money.”

In terms of environmental sustainability, all Bostock orchards are organic with more and more cropping land being converted to organics each year. In addition, Bostock New Zealand owns Rush Munro’s Ice Cream, producing organic ice cream, while Bostock Brothers – operated by John’s sons – sell only organic poultry.

Also, in 2018 Bostock New Zealand purchased 2000 native trees, and staff volunteered to plant them along the Karamū Stream to stabilise the ground and improve water quality. The Karamū Stream Restoration Project is part of the company’s ongoing commitment to protecting our waterways for future generations to enjoy.

“It was a fun time and heaps of the community came out. We have an orchard beside the stream so it’s good for us too,” says Rhonda.

Social sustainability

To ensure social sustainability, the list is long and much of it comes back to what Bostock New Zealand does best – providing fresh and nutritious food.

Five years ago, John Bostock opened Bostock Organic Kitchen at the company’s head office to provide subsidised organic meals to staff and the community to help educate staff about eating healthy, nutritious food.

“It’s a set menu – usually organic chicken with salads,” says Rhonda. “It’s subsidised for staff so there’s an extra incentive to eat well at work, and it’s great because our people can bring these habits home to their families.”

Rhonda says while it can be tricky for orchard staff to make it into the kitchen – although some do during less busy times of the year – on average 100 staff eat in the kitchen each week.

Unsurprisingly, staff are also offered free fruit to encourage further nutritious choices, and no vending machines are allowed on site.

Fair for Life

Bostock New Zealand is headquartered in one of New Zealand’s lower socio-economic suburbs, so in addition to supporting many other community events, it helps support the school garden (funded by Wharariki Trust) at Kimi Ora Primary.

Bostock New Zealand donates money to buy plants for the school’s edible garden and supplies organic chickens each week to help feed the children a daily school lunch.

“It’s aimed at increasing attention and focus in class and generally supporting healthy habits,” says Rhonda. (Below, John and Ben Bostock - left and right centre - are pictured with the team at Kimi Ora school.)

“Most of the funds used are earned via the Fair for Life programme, which we must be part of to sell our organic apples into some markets. For that we must pay for membership and auditing, but in return we receive a rebate on every crate of apples sold to those retailers, which we donate to a cause we choose.”

Bostock New Zealand’s Fair for Life committee – of which Rhonda is the treasurer – is made up of permanent and RSE workers, along with a few community members. They get together and decide how to allocate the money.

“Being in the programme is a cost but we’re able to do so much good. With his holistic approach to business, John sees this as the right thing to do. He’s a very successful businessman and has underlying values about caring for people and the environment. It’s not an extra for us; it’s how we roll, it’s just what we do.”

The committee also elected to donate money to Flaxmere’s Te Aranga marae community garden and supported an edible garden for the area’s solo parent centre.

Back at work, the committee also funded initiatives for its RSE staff, including first aid training that gives them knowledge they can use back home in their villages.

Ask your team

Early in 2019, Bostock NZ surveyed the company’s permanent staff using Ask Your Team, a locally developed service.

The survey included baseline questions around leadership and culture, performance development and communication, but also included the company’s own questions.

“We had an 81% participation rate and some really great scores, including that 84% of staff think we’re a great place to work. We have fantastic scores but we’ve got a way to go, so we also ask how can we improve,” says Rhonda.

“This year we asked how we can better support the mental health and wellbeing of our team. From that we’ll build a strategy for next year based on what we know people want, rather than what we think they need.”

Rhonda says Bostock New Zealand was already well aware that being a flexible employer is a key part of supporting their people’s mental wellbeing. But while that’s relatively easy in head office, it’s harder for orchard workers, especially during harvest. “But we do have a single parent programme in the packhouse where mums can job-share, and we’re looking for other ways we can be more flexible.”

Managing fatigue is another top priority, especially when pressure mounts. “Apples can’t stay on the trees, but we must make sure people take breaks and don’t become fatigued and injured. People must put in the hours when necessary but not at the expense of their wellbeing.”

Essential to managing that balance is workers feeling they can speak up if unwell. “Communication is so important to us as an employer, as is flexibility,” says Rhonda.

“Both go hand-in-hand with good mental wellbeing. We have been promoting the five ways to wellbeing, and working on having a good culture, especially around connecting as colleagues.

“Twice a year John Bostock invites all the permanent staff and their partners for dinner and an update. We want to work on open connection a lot more, including reinforcing there’s no shame in struggling with wellbeing.”

As 80% of the Bostock New Zealand workforce is male, Rhonda admits it’s difficult to get many talking about stress and emotions. “But we’re getting there. And we’ll keep going. We’re working on a strategy for next year to do far more to support mental wellbeing, both for our people and for those around them."

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