For winemaker Carol Bunn, returning to university after 25 years to study organics has opened up a host of opportunities.
She’s just completed Lincoln’s Diploma of Organic Agri-Food Production at the Biological Husbandry Unit (BHU) and feels ready to start pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming self-sufficient.
“It’s been amazing to be able to start learning again and find out about all the up-to-date, modern trends in organic farming.
“Our family owns a deer farm near Arrowtown, and I have worked as a winemaker for many years. I would love to have a piece of land at the farm where I grow my own produce,” she says.
“One option is to set up an organic vineyard, based on permaculture principles. The possibilities are limitless.”
However, Carol says her priorities have changed from a decade ago when she would have focused solely on potential organic business opportunities.
“Now it’s more about lifestyle and wanting to contribute to a healthy planet in my own small way.”
Carol has always been interested in environmental issues, gaining a postgraduate diploma in viticulture and oenology from Lincoln in 1995 after completing an undergraduate degree in environmental planning and geography at Massey and working as a planner.
“Climate change was just becoming a topical issue when I studied in the early 1990s,” she says.
“But things have changed dramatically. During my time in the wine industry, I have seen many vineyards and wineries become organic and latterly I was specifically interested in working for organic wineries.”
According to Carol, the Diploma of Organic Agri-food Production “goes beyond straight organics”.
“It’s not just about being organic but caring for the planet. A successful organic property will be productive and focus on maintaining balance; being ecologically, socially and economically sustainable and running an operation that doesn’t take from the earth.
“Some of the things the course teaches you is how to build up soil organic matter, keep water clean, achieve biodiversity and control weeds without using synthetic chemicals. You also learn how to become organically certified.”
Carol says she was impressed by some of the guest lecturers who presented innovative ideas and spoke about their experiences of running their own businesses and organisations.
Not all were strictly organic, but they adopted ethical and sustainable ways to run their operations and care for the environment.
“During the course, I was able to make contact with people who are utilising organic farming practices for a living. Many people in Canterbury are doing really interesting things and there are plenty of opportunities in the area.”
She enjoyed learning about the history behind organics, with the course offering information on organic pioneers of the 1920s, who were considered the forebears of modern organic agricultural practices.
They recognised the importance of soil health by taking a holistic approach through practices such as composting and crop rotation, to build biodiversity above and below ground.
“A crucial dimension to the course was learning about Māori culture and society (Te-Tu-a-Uri) and how Māori traditionally looked after the environment (Te Taiao) in a holistic way, through tikanga; traditions, practices, beliefs and natural lore.”
Above all, she says she’s relished the opportunity to see where the modern organics industry is headed.
“For someone who’s been in the workforce for 25 years, it’s fascinating to come back to university and find out what’s going on now.”