Rotary scholarship boosts learner’s growth cycle

Otago Polytechnic learner Leah Purchase has received a Rotary scholarship aimed at encouraging her into further study and, possibly, a long-term career in the horticulture industry in Central Otago.

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Available to horticulture, agriculture, stonemasonry, and turf students studying at Otago Polytechnic’s Central Otago Campus, the $1000 scholarships recognise “a demonstrated commitment to the industry of their choice”.

Leah has been studying the New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture (Fruit Production) through Otago Polytechnic while working fulltime at Akitu vineyard in Wanaka. 

The two-year part-time programme is designed for those already working in the fruit production or viticulture industry, and comprises a mix of theory and practical and is largely online, with some block courses.

It utilises the workplace as a setting in which to develop skills and knowledge in soil, water and plant science, along with seasonal tasks, pests, weeds and agrichemicals.

“Leah has transitioned from a really interesting past working in a range of tourism fields to now working in viticulture where she has embraced every opportunity over the past year to develop her knowledge and skills,” says Rachel Petrie, Senior Lecturer in Horticulture and Viticulture.

“Leah as attended many viticulture workshops, has entered the young viticulturist of the year competition and is now a key supervisor/technician in her workplace,” says Rachel, who has also worked in the viticulture industry.

Based in Wanaka, Leah says she was “super excited” to learn of the scholarship.

“It's such a great opportunity. This funding will allow me to look at taking on opportunities in the wine industry to continue building on my education and experience.

“I have spent much of my working life in hospitality, and a fair bit in the fruit industry, with a degree of exposure to horticulture, farming and forestry as well.

“Viticulture has been of interest to me for quite some time, initially during my tertiary studies, but I found 2020 an appropriate time to make the switch across from my hospitality career.

“I see viticulture and the wine industry as a wonderful step sideways, into a space where I can combine skills across my experience, find exciting roles, and personal growth in the form of new knowledge.”

Leah says the Level-4 New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture (Fruit Production) has given her more confidence to tackle real-world jobs in the vineyard.

“Next year will be a year of consolidating knowledge, doing focused work at the vineyard as well as some travel."

She says she has a couple of options in regards how she’ll spend the Rotary scholarship.

One is the Burgundy Exchange, the 25-year-old vintner exchange programme between Central Otago and French region Burgundy, which seeks ways to share knowledge and experience.

Another option is the Women in Wine mentorship programme offered through New Zealand Wine.

“These would be amazing learning experiences,” Leah says.

“I’m very open in terms of my goal. I think they need to be ever changing and evolving, as life is full of surprises.

“At this point, I am happy to continue on my path, saying ‘yes’ to opportunities as they present themselves, and improving what I can offer as a person in order to open doorways.”