At long last, I’ve started a new job.
Actually, I started a new job over a month ago, on the 21st June, the Solstice, which seems cosmically appropriate for new beginnings.
For some reason I didn’t want to write about it before I actually started…. Neither have I had much to say about it for the last month. I think I was secretly worried that something would fall through. The opportunity seemed too good to be real. I didn’t interview, and I wasn’t asked for my CV. My cynical self wondered if my new employer hadn’t really done due diligence and I wasn’t going to be fit for the role…. But after 6 weeks I don’t think that’s the case.
I’ve starting work with Berryworld, NZ. If you google Berryworld, you’ll come up with the UK/Dutch breeder of berry genetics, who would also be awesome to work with, but this time I’m working for a small NZ consultancy that uses the berry industry levy funds to do research and extension for NZ berry growers.
I LOVE berry crops. They’re colourful, for one. It’s strange how much working with a beautiful crop is a draw. And My favorite professor is a berry specialist (Marvin Pritts, Cornell). I also liked working with the berry grower personalities back in my Cornell Extension days. I’ve just got good vibes with berries.
Berryworld is as close to Agricultural Extension work as it gets in NZ. Here we don’t have an “extension system” paid for by tax dollars to support agricultural producers like there is in the USA, so if a commodity group wants research and advising done for them, they have to pay for it directly. The “levy” is a self-imposed tax an industry puts on itself to fund R&D, and Berryworld does the levy-funded work for black currants, strawberries, boysenberries, and to a small extent blueberries. That involves pest control recommendations and analysis, a wee bit of plant breeding, and heaps of working with growers. I’m in my element.
One of the main things I’ll be starting with is learning how to manage the “Strawberry High Health Unit” that Berryworld looks after (Ok, it does need a better name). Strawberries are vegetatively propagated, which means there is all kinds of potential for viruses to pass from motherplant to daughter plant and accumulate over the generations, to the detriment of quality and yield. To counter this, Berryworld keeps a stock of motherplants in a clean greenhouse, plants which are handled with great care and virus tested in multiple ways. They are the nuclear stock that the strawberry runner growers start with each year. Two generations down the line, those daughter plants bear the fruit crop for strawberry growers in NZ.
As part of Berryworld, I’m also invited to nose into berryfruit work of all types. Interested in pests and pest control? There’s plenty of those to go around. Plant breeding? The owner of the business does a bit of that, and is happy to share. Plant nutrition? There’s a topic I could get into, and with the new style of berry production being under cover in soilless media, this could be where my greenhouse background could be most useful. So there are lots of interesting avenues ahead.
It’s been a long road since December 17th, my last day at the greenhouse. One insightful friend asked me to reflect back on what I had learned during the process.
Job searching is basically “rejection therapy” on steroids—you keep getting “No, you’re not good enough,” or “no, we don’t want you” again and again, in various guises. I applied for 15 jobs, all of which I though I was qualified for, and none of which I got. For most of these I didn’t even get to interview. I’m honestly not sure I can say that it got any easier as I went along. But I did get more resilient at putting myself out there.
Number one lesson of rejection therapy: getting a “no” reflects as much about the other person as it does about you. Looking back, I think this is true, to a large extent. As an American, not from one of the two NZ agricultural universities, with a horticultural background in the world of animal agriculture, I was just an anomaly, and I didn’t fit the traditional mold in an industry which is very traditional.
I also realized that there’s a significant opportunity cost of working more hours, including starting early in the morning. In the last few months I have experienced what it’s like to be NOT tired and rushed, and it’s very good. I generally have more patience and creativity with the kids when I’m not tired. It’s easier to walk through life in a thoughtful and genuine way when I’m grounded with enough sleep and enough quiet reflection time.
I’m not proud to admit it, but I still place an inordinate amount of my self worth in my career success, or lack thereof. As I’m now back at work, I find myself slipping into the old habit of trying to get that extra thing ticked on the to-do list, to feel good about my accomplishment. But what if our personal value is totally unconnected with what we accomplish? Time off work gives space to reflect on core beliefs, including core beliefs that need changing.
No, no new babies on the way here.
I’m in need of a business name under which I can do a wee bit of horticultural consulting. A greenhouse business saw my CV on Seek and contacted me to see if I could help them with a bit of technical stuff, and I’ve decided to try a foray into the consulting world.
As an American, of course my first concern is about liability. We’re so paranoid about this, compared to the “she’ll be right” attitude the Kiwis adopt. To keep liability in bounds I need to set up a proper business, with a name and a tax ID. The mechanics are actually quite easy in NZ, but the naming I’m finding very difficult. So I’m turning to crowd sourcing. I’d love to hear your ideas, good, bad or otherwise.
Here are the parameters:
The name needs to be broad enough that I can work in various sectors, from greenhouse, vegetables, and berries to soils and field crops.
It also needs to be broad enough to take in not only diagnostics and pest control, but also horticultural practices like fertilizing, pruning, water management, etc.
I want use a collaborative approach to problem solving–observe and listen well, understand the business and people well, and make recommendations that are a good fit for them. Pragmatic, practical solutions.
I don’t want my personal name in the business name.
I wish I could come up with an English word that means the same as the Greek “phronesis,” ‘a type of wisdom that’s relevant to practical action.’ But naming a NZ business a Greek name sounds a bit….pretentious.
Here are a couple ideas I’ve come up with; I’d welcome your reactions and ideas for others.
- Plantly Speaking (pun on Practically Speaking)
- Plant Talk
I’ve had children at Halswell School for 5 years now, but I’ve only recently attended an all-school assembly. Yet another silver lining to unemployment.
Naomi had specifically invited me to this assembly because her block, Otawhito, was hosting. I arrived a couple minutes early and watched as the kids streamed through the doors and were arranged by their teachers sitting in orderly lines on the gym floor, marvelling again at the teachers’ command of their students….if I was in charge there’d be chaos and I’d be hoarse.
The main even of the assembly is the giving of performance certificates for selected students in each grade level. Each child was called out by their teacher, along with one sentence describing the behavior that merited the special recognition.
“Andrew, for being such a good friend, welcoming and including the new students into our studio”
“Zoe, for persisting in Maths even when its challenging”
“Naomi for being an excellent communicator in her reading group”
The skills the teachers were rewarding weren’t academic achievements. Instead, they were the personal qualities that will see kids through life—kindness, persistence, teamwork and communication. The students with their cue cards were also practicing an important life skill—public speaking and the self-assurance it takes to present in front of a group.
It’s interesting to think about. As an adult in the jobs market, these are the same skills that I need to demonstrate in an interview (along with technical experience related to my field, of course). Baring kindness….I suppose I haven’t run across any “behavioral competency” questions that ask about kindness yet. As an educator in the university system recently told me, we don’t actually know heaps about what information will be important for kids to know in their future jobs, let alone what knowledge will be generated after they leave the classroom. We’re mainly preparing them with skills to keep learning.
At any rate, I’m grateful that the kids’ school emphasizes, practices, and rewards qualities like persistence, communication, and teamwork, along with kindness.
I’m working on becoming “Rejection Proof,” taking inspiration from the book by Jia Jiang which I read over a year ago. Twice.
It’s such a foreign concept for me to make the experience of being rejected into a science project, and a humorous one at that. Especially when the “skin thickening process” is like gaining tolerance to cold water or dirty diapers—tolerance comes only after multiple unpleasant exposures.
The job search process ebbs and flows, and my optimism changes with it. This week, after a couple negative conversations, I’m at a low point.
This afternoon I sighed, closed the laptop lid, and moved outdoors to soak up the rejuvenating effect of the sunshine while tidying up the garden. I reflected that Rejection comes in a few different flavours.
- The Passive Rejection. This is the job application I submit and never hear a thing about. The unanswered emails. I’d also put into this category the polite rejection of “I’m just a bit busy right now, how about I get back to you when I have more time.” That time, of course, never comes.
Objectively, I’ve experienced Passive Rejection 33% of the time with initiating email conversations, and 42% of the time with job applications. Individual Passive rejections aren’t too bad, probably because they’re gradual. By the time you’ve given up hope of hearing a response, 2-4 weeks might have passed. But reflecting on them as a whole can be discouraging.
2. The Polite Rejection. HR managers are especially adept at this, in the form of automated emails. “Thank you for your application, but after careful consideration we regret to inform you that your application has not progressed to the next stage of our process. Although you were not selected for this particular position, you may be a fit for other roles within our organisation. We encourage you to register your interest for future opportunities on our career site.” In my albeit limited experience, those resume-submission portals are Black Holes that consume CVs and never release them.
25% of job applications have ended in a Polite Rejection. For anyone counting percentages, the remaining 33% of applications I haven’t heard a response from, but they could still fall into either category.
3. The [rare] Rude Rejection: I happened upon a couple doozies yesterday.
Here’s one for the books, responding to a polite email I sent briefly explaining who I was and why I was trying to better understand the Canterbury horticulture industry by having conversations with horticulture business owners like himself: “It’s a bit sensitive having someone who has contact with [your former company] coming in here. Why have you recently finished working for them? What would I gain from giving you my time?” My politely crafted response got the Passive Rejection (no answer).
In a similar vein, I phoned an organisation whose website is advertising an app for crop growers, and I asked if they had a video-tour or brief example of the software in use so I could understand how it worked. “Who are you?” I was so taken aback by the tone that I answered quite bluntly. “I’m Molly…” “But where are you from?” the interrogator continued. She was means-testing me, and though I wasn’t sure of the currency, I was aware that I was broke. “Christchurch,” I answered, realizing as I said it that I sounded like a city slicker, and my accent gives me away as a foreigner just as hers gave her away as a POM. It was dawning on me that not being employed by a farming company was going to be a problem, as it turned out to be. “Ok, well thanks anyway,” I chirped, and hung up quickly before I had a chance to say something I’d regret. The most ironic part? When I looked up the software name on you-tube, there was a freely available series of tutorials….
4. The [very rare] Enthusiastically Positive Rejection: These are regrettably scarce, unfortunately, and I count them in the rejection category because they don’t lead to a job offer. Still, I find them quite buoying, whether or not they are sincere. “Be assured there is a need for workers in the seed industry, particularly people like yourself with your skills and qualifications.” Or “I’d hire you, but we’re fully staffed right now.” Or, my favourite: “Many companies NEED you – you possess skills that are rare and highly sought after, sometimes the people don’t realise it.”
The danger comes when I start to believe the discouraging messages, the basic flavour of which is “You’re not good enough,” “You’re not valuable,” “We don’t want you.” If I believe that, it’ll become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The negative messages are so much more sticky than the positive ones.
So here are some objective numbers to calibrate the last six week’s job hunting experience, as there have been many more helpful responses than negatives.
- Of the 49 people I emailed to ask questions, 30 gave helpful responses. 16 gave no response, and three were negative.
- Of the 20 conversations I’ve had by phone and in person, I can only remember three that were negative. That means 85% were helpful and positive.
Am I Rejection Proof? Not yet. Am I gaining Rejection Tolerance? Getting there.
I stopped into a local produce stand, and there was a box of soft stone fruit seconds (awaft with fruit flies) for five bucks. I snagged it. The pie has peaches, but also apricots, nectarines, three varieties of plums.
New Zealand grocery stores don’t stock Crisco, and I’ve been disheartened with oil crusts as well as my last attempt (4 years ago!) at a butter crust. This time I followed a recipe, including the recommendation to use ice water and refrigerate the crust before rolling it out. Voila! It tasted as good as it looked.
And yes, we’ve been eating it for breakfast.
I’ve finally left age 38 behind, good riddance. 2020 was hardly in the running to be anyone’s favorite year. Now I’m 39. A much more pleasing number, but we all know what looms next.
As I’ve been pondering aging, there have been a few incidences that pull my self-image one way or the other….aside from the obvious mirror, which shows my first grey hair and the deepening furrows between my brows (stop frowning, Molly!).
Old #1: Milo turned 10 last week.
Young #1: We went to Jellie Park, a Christchurch Council swimming pool, one recent hot day before school started. So did half the moms and kids in Christchurch.
We all wore our swim suits to the pool to avoid the changing rooms, me in my new pink-lined speedo which recently replaced my old sagging togs. I staked out a section of grass by spreading out our towels, and went to swim a couple laps while the kids did the hydroslides. Milo gets cold easily, and I found him back on the towels warming in the sun. He glanced up at me in surprise as I plunked myself down next to him. “Oh, I thought you were some teenager,” he exclaimed. Having spent the morning in close observation of body types of all ages, I’ll take that as a compliment.
Old#2: I recently hiked to Lake Morgan on the west coast, and my quads were sore for a week afterwards. Either I’m less fit than I used to be, or my body’s recovery time is increasing with old age….or both.
Fun fact: “greywackle” is the grey sedimentary sandstone I’m familiar with from much of the southern alps. When it is deeply buried and heated, greywacke is converted to a flaky rock called schist. The western side of the alps has been uplifted more than the east, so the deeper layers that contain schist are revealed there.
“My legs aren’t too bad,” I stated, optimistically massaging my quads. “It’s the down that gets me.” Even as I said it, I remember my grandparents saying the same thing, a fact that as I child I found frankly implausible.
Young#2: One day recently I was rounding the corner to meet the kids on their way home from school.
“Hey, careful with your old mazzer!” I protested. “You’re not old!” Naomi rejoined, exercising her appreciation for precision and love of contradiction at the same time.
Old#3: Milo was reading his library book when he picked his head up and fired out what seemed like a random question:
“Back when I was a kid—in the days before the internet, and before we all had cell phones—we used to have a book that you could use to look up people’s phone numbers by their last name.” Describing it that way, the phone book days seemed very very long ago.
“Could you tear on in half?” he asked, and suddenly I understood the context of the question in relation to the comic book. “No, not me, they were massive.”
Young #3: Actually, I can’t think of one. I suppose that puts me squarely in the middle of old and young. Embrace middle-age, baby!
I biked up Kennedy’s bush this afternoon, then over the Summit Rd and down through the Christchurch Adventure Park. It was a fantastic ride, not only because of the gorse, but because I had one earbud in listening to Dire Straits on Spotify. I encountered the old favorites, but also a bunch of songs I had never heard before. Listening to music has such a profound affect on mood. With Dire Straits I was a more aggressive rider on the downhill trails, and I’ve never enjoyed them as much as I did today. What a fabulous ride!
At work I’m on a mission to better utilize our waste nutrient water. The latest tool acquired for that mission is the light green nitrate meter in this set. The purple potassium meter is also on order.
I took it out of the packaging yesterday, squinted at the instructions that come in seven different languages printed on crinkled light weight paper, calibrated it with the sleek little bottles of calibration solution, and checked the nitrate level in one of our recirculating fertigation tanks. 730ppm NO3-
I was confused. According to my Mega-Fancy Fertilizer Spreadsheet, I expected that nutrient solution to be at approximately 170ppm N, since the EC was 1.7 I checked it with the nitrate test strips–the reading was off the chart, above 500ppm. Had my spreadsheet been grossly wrong for all these years?!
I went and measured another familiar solution, a “high N” feed at EC 1.6. Again, the answer was way higher than I expected, 640ppm nitrate. I pulled out a text book and looked up that calcium nitrate mixed at 0.84g/L should make a solution with EC 0.8 and 100ppmN, then went to the fertilizer room to measure out the solution. The tester showed 440ppm nitrate. Eh??
Back at my desk I phoned the guy I bought the meter from. I must be doing something wrong, but I wasn’t sure what. We talked about calibration, checking the meter in clear water, using a standard solution….nothing was ringing a bell, until I looked at the container of test strips I was using as a comparison. There were two scales to read: nitrate-N ppm or NO3-ppm. I hadn’t registered that there was a difference, but the scales had different numbers–500ppm NO3- equals 113 ppm nitrate-N. That’s when I figured out my error. My fertilizer spreadsheet is calculated in N mg/L, which is different than NO3- mg/L by a factor of the molecular weight of 3 oxygen molecules. I glanced over at my nerdy wall poster of the periodic table of elements. A molecule of NO3- weights 62g/mole while N itself only weighs 14g/mole, so ppm calculations in NO3- are 4.42 times higher than those in solo nitrogen molecules.
Adjusting for the extra weight of the oxygen, suddenly all the numbers made sense. My Mega-Fancy Fertilizer spreadsheet was still telling the truth, albeit in a different language. SUCH a relief.
Delight of the Day: Chemistry WORKS. Math WORKS. And so does my nitrate meter.