Studying horticulture opens door to new career path after COVID-19 layoff

Studying horticulture opens door to new career path after COVID-19 layoff

After COVID-19 put an end to his career in the travel industry, Brendan Varney has gone back to his roots studying horticulture at NMIT and starting his own business.

Returning to study as a mature student was “quite nerve-wracking”, but the change of direction has been a blessing in disguise.

“It just goes to show that things happen in life and as one door closes, another door opens,” Brendan says.

Brendan was raised on a farm and grows feijoas on a lifestyle block in Blenheim, so he had some horticulture experience.

But after being laid off from his job in the travel industry as a result of COVID-19, he enrolled in NMIT’s Certificate in Horticulture (Level 3) course to keep himself occupied.

The course can be completed full-time over six months or part-time over a year and prepares graduates for work in the horticulture industry, growing on their own land, or further study.

Brendan started by studying online, making the most of the flexible learning options, but after a couple of weeks he decided to attend classes on campus.

“I’m pleased I did the classroom side of things. The interaction and feedback from everyone are important, I think, because you can ask questions there and then.”

He says parts of the programme, such as plant science, were completely new to him, while others helped to upgrade the skills and knowledge he already had.

Brendan says horticulture tutor Don Cross was excellent and “always there for you, anytime of day”.

Studying horticulture at NMIT provided the impetus for Brendan to start his own small business, growing raspberries and peonies on his plot of land.

The business initiative has led to him being awarded a Marlborough Entrepreneur Scholarship, which includes a year’s membership to the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and support from Business Trust Marlborough.

He’s also started an internship with Vine to Wine, a new initiative from Marlborough businesses Ormond Nurseries, New Zealand Wineries and SLT.

“I've got to learn all about grapes now, from the vine and everything in between then through to the finished product, so that's very exciting.”

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