• Video: After a tough year following Cyclone Gabrielle, Twyford grower still has the strength to continue

Video: After a tough year following Cyclone Gabrielle, Twyford grower still has the strength to continue

After the “toughest year” in his working life following Cyclone Gabrielle, Twyford fruit grower Jerf van Beek says he still has the strength to continue.

Sitting outside his garage in an area that was quickly engulfed in an angry wall of water when a nearby stop bank was breached , Van Beek remarks that the sun is shining and there is “far less silt”.

Van Beek, who is also a Hawke’s Bay Regional Councillor, suffered major losses to his orchards and extensive damage to his home as a flood bank at his property was overwhelmed by a torrent of “angry” water from the nearby Ngaruroro River.

Hawke’s Bay App interviewed him two days after the event, where despite the devastation around him, he remained optimistic.

That optimism is still there a year on.

“A little bit less silt right now through a lot of hard work and we've been able to make the best of it. Finally, the sun is shining and we've been... 2023 has possibly been the toughest year of my life workwise and we just had no break and we just constantly worked six days a week full-on, trying to rebuild our business.”

“But hey, sitting here now, relaxed, just about to go on holiday for two weeks, which we haven't done yet for this kind of stint. We're really looking forward to it.”

Van Beek was at his back door, about to go to his garage, when he saw the flood water inundating his 14-hectare property.

He and his family managed to get some items of value from his house and got away in their vehicles. A neighbour was not so lucky and had to be rescued by a four-wheel drive tractor.

Even days after seeing his house destroyed, Van Beek was quick to point out that there were other people worse off than him and his family.

However, he did lament the destruction of his “beautiful house”, which he built with his own hands, and his livelihood – acres of fruit trees.

However, he did acknowledge that he had tremendous support from his family, his community and his church. His faith is what got him through what was a traumatic time.

That has not changed a year on.

“Every day we understand that we are part of a total plan. We don't always know the answer of it, but it gives us the strength to continue. And also, our church family and our own family, they've been so supportive and still are, great help.”

“And it's the benefit that you have of knowing a very large community. And that's one thing that came very clear, that those through the later part of the cleanups, that the marae and churches were able to push through and continue to give help where needed. Where individuals really struggled because they had to go back to work and they just couldn't keep it up.”

“But the marae and churches were able to keep on giving and supporting, and that's why it's so important to be part of a community.”

Looking back, Van Beek does wish that the family had maybe taken a moment to move furniture to the second floor – out of the way of the flood water – but that adrenaline kicked in and the family left as quickly as they could.

He does believe things, no matter how bad they are, happened for a reason and “we just have to make the best of it we can”.

“ We had so much help from people that to be negative would've really have impacted on them as well. And we just made it almost a party, an enjoyable experience to help each other. And I think we've carried it on right through.”

“So, I think, what made it so positive for us was we weren't the only ones and there was a lot of help being promised to come, but the help that was promised we already had from our friends and church family and it was just absolutely great.”

As for the damage to his orchards, it was fairly extensive.

“We've got two blocks of our own and a large lease block just down the road about six minutes from here, about 4k, also in Twyford. So on both orchards, we lost a combined of 10 hectares of apples, nine and a half hectares of apples and half a hectare of cherries.”

“They were completely wasted and they had to be pulled out and put into a big heap and burned. The two major cherry cages we were able to save. Mind you, they were extensively damaged and that has been the most work for us to rebuild.”

“So the orchards, the cherry cages that were still salvageable, we've actually built better cages from it. We've been able to rebuild a better layout and we've put some additional capital into the pack house. And together with the insurance, we've actually been able to build a better pack house. We live now in our garage, which was a strawbale garage, and we made it into a small liveable space and it's absolutely lovely to stay in.”

He says that the house is a project for this year.

“And the house we haven't touched yet, apart from some structural work to save the house. This coming year, 2024, will be the rebuilding of the house. Because once again, it's a strawbale house, it's going to take quite a lot of work because it's all bespoke, I built it myself and all the materials are quite unique materials. And so to rebuild that is not actually going to be that straightforward. But once again, our insurance is very supportive and they understand what we had and what we would like to have.”

Despite what he has gone through, Van Beek remains optimistic and confident in the resilience of the community of Hawke’s Bay.

Watch the accompanying video for the full interview with Jerf van Beek.