Spotlight on a member: Sarah Burgess

What patience can teach you

by Sarah Burgess

I spent most of my childhood living in upper story flats, no yard, no garden but Mum always kept masses of indoor plants and the balconies were always alive with green.  Her dream had always been to move to the hills where she could have space to garden and she fulfilled this dream when I was 14 years old, it was the worst time of my life.  A girl in her early teens being dragged from the only world she knew, new school, no friends surrounded by nothing that was familiar.  As soon as I could I escaped back to the city, the concrete, the polluted air and the crowds.

Fast forward a few years of working, travelling and living my life to the fullest; I started to notice that each time I moved it seemed to be further and further from these cities and by the time I got to England I was captivated by the beautiful green countryside and found myself moving from one rural area to another.  Shortly after returning from England I discovered a new role in life, Motherhood.  With this new role I discovered that life moves at a much slower pace and patience was a new skill for me, along with patience came boredom (at least in the first couple of months) and I had to find a way to relieve this boredom without going anywhere… never was very good at being still.

So when out on a shopping trip one day I came across a nursery that had a table full of sad and lonely plants, unloved, unwanted and destined to be disposed of.  I bought a couple of these with no idea of what to do with them.  Through trial and error I managed to nurse them back to health. After that I was a goner, all of a sudden I understood my mother, the indoor plants, the drive to be in the hills to have a garden and I have never looked back.  Shortly after we also packed up the family and moved to the hills.

After being in the hills for a few years and also becoming a keen gardener (as much as you can living in the bottom of a gully on the south side of a hill surrounded by 20-30mt eucalyptus) I realised this was not enough, there was a need to work with plants all the time not just on weekends so I started to look for work, any kind of work, that involved plants.  With no skills or experience this proved to be harder than first thought so I settled for a job harvesting and processing flowers at local Protea farm with the expectation that I would gain skills and experience and move on.

21 years later I am still at that farm and the job that I “settled for” turned out to be the best decision in my life so far, except of course having children, my dream of working with plants came true.  Not only did I harvest and process the field grown plants there was also the opportunity to work in the small nursery on the property that grew plants primarily for the plantation with a small percentage being sold at the NGIV Trade Day.  

Pieter Sijpkes, my boss, turned out to be a wonderful role model and mentor, he believed in women, their tenacity and strength along with their willingness to just get the job done and well (a rare man indeed).  He gave me the opportunities that helped myself and Linda, his daughter, expand the nursery from 5% of the business to 50% and grow the business to what it is today.  Having said that, we would not have been able to do this without the hard work and dedication of the long standing commitment made by the mostly female workforce we have had for the last 20 plus years.

5 years ago I was lucky enough to be able to purchase the business from Pieter and I will continue in his footsteps of giving other women the opportunities he gave me.  We have started this by taking on 2 apprentices for the first time ever, both of these women are enthusiastic, forward thinking, excited to learn and will be (in fact already are) an asset to the business. 

The last thing I would like to say is a very big thankyou to all of the women (and couple of men) that work with us at Ausflora Pacific, without you we would not be where we are today, THANK YOU XX

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