Services Vegetable Project at Levin during wartime

During World War Two, Levin was the site of an important vegetable growing project used to help feed the armed forces, particularly the thousands of US servicemen in camp at Paekakariki.

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The unit was established in Levin about February-March 1942, with its headquarters in Bruce Road.

Click here to view picture from New Zealand History Online of Maori employed at a Services vegetable production project near Levin in 1943.

 About 280 acres of land was leased compulsorily, from east of Bruce Rd in the vicinity of Bolton Rd, to the west of CD Farm Rd.

Much of the land was part of the original Central Development Farm of earlier years 1894-1928. The office and sheds were on the west of Bruce Rd on Mr Ray Brown’s farm, about where Bolton Rd intersects with Bruce Rd and just south of the present modern house of Mr Graeme Taylor.

The office and storerooms were built new (Public Works huts) and the large sheds were obviously the original farm sheds. The old house was used as a staff shelter and had previously been used as a cookhouse with a cook when some single men lived in huts. These huts were called army huts too, as the army used them as well. Two houses (again of huts joined together) housed senior staff.

These S.V.P. units were established to supply vegetables to military camps in NZ especially for the large American Marine camp at Paekakariki.

When the 3rd Division in the Pacific was returned to NZ in 1944, I was directed by the Levin Manpower Committee to work as a ganger at the Levin S.V.P. Unit. The manpower regulations were part of the emergency regulations during World War Two, 1939-45. People could be directed by the local manpower committees to work at any essential industry.

People were directed from shops, offices, etc., to more essential industries.

Non-compliance was a criminal offence, punishable by fines, even jail, or if eligible, for military service and offenders would be immediately called up for service.

The farms which were leased were of Mr Wm. Fyfe on the corner of Bolton and Bruce Rds, now sub-divided and owned by Mrs Marjorie Harris, York Gardens, in Bolton Rd and Kee Young, and Jack Young in Bruce Rd. Mr Ray Brown’s, now occupied by Mr Graeme Taylor, and 25 acres of Mr John Laing’s 50 acres, now owned by Mr Geo Tse on the west side of Bruce Rd; Mr Kearans’ 60 acres, now owned by Kohitere; and 30 acres of Mr John Maynell’s 60 acres, now subdivided and owned by Mr Angus Smith, Mr Hugh Gardener, Mr Monti and  Roberta Mayclair on CD Farm Rd and Golden Coast Poultry and Mr Williams on Buller Rd. On the west side of CD Farm Rd, Mr Chas Brickland’s 60 acres was leased, now occupied by Woodhaven Gardens at the rear and Mr Murray Fletcher at the front.

There were other S.V.P. units in NZ.

At Otaki the race course and domain were used for growing vegetables. Growers also contracted for supply of vegetables at Opiki and Mr Coffing’s Birdwood Garden (i.e. corner of Bolton Rd and Bruce Rd) was a contractor for the vegetables, specialising in celery and rhubarb.

Mr John Hopkins, as head of the Department of Agriculture in Levin, was in charge of the unit. Mr Jack Heywood was the overseer. The field workers of about 60 in number were divided into three gangs.

Mr Tom Gifford was the ganger for the harvesting gang, Mr John (Pop) Maynell was the ganger for the planting and weeding gang and Mr Mark Bettin was the ganger for the tomato gang.

Mr Charles Welby was in charge of the office. Mr Mel (Bugs) Boothby was the pest control expert. Mr Fred Hudson was storeman and Mr (Kapiti) Wilkinson was the repairman.

Miss Joyce Hudson was the typist in the office.

Mr Dick Timu was the Maori liaison officer. Tractor drivers were Mr Hoppy Heterika and Mr Trevor Elliot. Mr John Lewington and Mr Bert Larsen were the truck drivers.

I was allotted half of Mr Maynell’s gang, but much of the time I had the whole gang of 22 as when there was urgency of land tilling, Mr Maynell would drive a tractor, a job he preferred to standing all day watching the workers.

At times I would take part of the gang for some specialty work. Under the manpower regulations no worker could be dismissed, only suspended, with the local manpower committee deciding the issue. Persuasion and coercion were the only methods of keeping the gang working, though many of them away from the main gang were good workers. Earlier, two girls had been suspended. Six weeks later the committee sent them back and they were paid their wages for the whole period. During my stay at the unit, the American Marines had finally left NZ and as there was too much produce grown for the NZ military camps, large quantities were marketed.

 

During wet weather, if any orders for camps needed to be harvested, my gang would help the harvesting gang to finish and then all could go without waiting until 3pm at the depot.

Two girls refused to help the harvesting gang for a camp order, so I suspended them and sent them to the depot in a truck. They were back in two days without loss of wages. I think the decision to send them back was made in the office as it was too fast for the manpower committee.

There was very little mechanical method of planting or weeding except for inter-row cultivation.

 

Large quantities of cauliflowers and cabbages were grown.

The block which would be planted had lines marked by a tractor. The lines could be four to six hundred yards long. The planting gang was young as the method of planting was fairly arduous. The girls spaced out on the lines. The boys followed digging the holes with a trowel, dropping the plants in. As the planter stepped forward his back leg heeled the plant in. As one leg was always lifted this meant that the planter was on one leg all the time. As this was tiring except to the very fit youths, the gang was entitled to a rest after each row. Some of the boys were very fast, planting a row with four or five hundred plants in 15 or 20 minutes.

As the slower planters were entitled to their rest, it would have been up to half an hour before another row was started.

Lining up 11 pairs of workers was difficult for various reasons, including that of the toilets which always seemed to be half a mile away. The gang would not start until the whole lot were lined up.

The fast planters had to be watched as some would miss placing the plant in the hole, perhaps stamping it into the soil and even missing heeling the plant in the hole.

A method was tried of discing weeds away from rows of carrots and parsnips to narrow the hand weeding area. The double discs were set about one inch (2.5cm) apart in sets of six. This worked fine on some rows, but in other rows the plants would be neatly sliced down the middle.

Tractor sowing of the seed was not accurate enough for the discing method.

To assist the tomato harvesting I took six of the girls to grade and pack tomatoes. As the girls were inexperienced in this work it did not go well, so I nailed a sample of the grades on to the back of the grading bins. The work then improved.

There was a block sown in onions. I took a small gang with weed burners, with primus blowlamp heads to scorch the seedling weeds before the onions emerged. This was a job I was familiar with, having had experience with bulbs using a six-burner trolley. The weeds in the onions were well scorched and so was my right boot.

While I was at the unit some sweet corn was grown, but it never reached the market.

The cobs with the husk on were placed on a fire at lunch time. The cobs tasted delicious, even if one side was scorched.

One method the gangers used to enforce discipline on very poor workers was to refuse to enter their time on the timesheet. The overseer would put them on his own timesheet and give them some trivial job. One such was to gather cones.

One example was one sugar bag of cones a day.

 

I have been told by the late Mr Erol McAuliffe and the late Mr Hoppy Heterika, that when the American Marines were at Paekakariki ‘top brass’ officers would arrive in jeeps with military police to inspect the vegetables.

Often the Marine Quartermaster would supply seed of American origin.

One example was the large smooth tomato. One of the trucks ran every day to Hokio and Moutere Rd to transport workers.

I was called back into the army in May 1945.

 

The S.V.P. was closed some time in late 1945. The rent for the leasehold land was $16 an acre a year and it was grassed down by the unit. Mr John Laing said the leased 25 acres came up infested with land cress, a weed he had never seen before though he had lived in the area for over 40 years. The dairy factory told him he had to take his cows off the infested block as the land cress was tainting the butter. Sheep had to be grazed until the weed was eliminated.

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Services Vegetable Project at Levin during wartime


Creator:Corrie Swanwick
Creation date:19/02/1986
Publisher:The Chronicle
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License
Services Vegetable Project at Levin during wartime by Pippa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License