WORDS DANIEL DUNKLEY / PHOTOS BRYDIE THOMPSON
Snow Williams knows everything there is to know about kiwifruit. The decade in which the fruit was first exported from New Zealand (the 1940s), the number of orchards in the country (3055), the best conditions for growing (free-draining soil and crisp winters), its vitamin and mineral count (a lot of vitamins C and K)… He rattles off the answers with ease.
Snow is an expert at selling kiwifruit orchards, a fine art that combines commercial and residential property knowledge with horticultural know-how. He’s been at it for 26 years now and has worked for Bayleys for the past six, covering farms, horticulture and lifestyle blocks. The kiwifruit industry is booming, and Snow is in the thick of it in the Western Bay of Plenty, one of the world’s most fertile production regions.
UNO met Snow at his farm near Kaiate Falls, a beautiful 25-acre spot in the hills with stunning views of the Mount to the north. He lives the lifestyle he sells. Barely a sound can be heard on his rural property – just the birds and the belted Galloway cows that plod around in the paddocks below the house. He “lives off the land”, growing broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cabbages, silver beet, herbs – you name it. “I spend most of my time on the deck,” he says, pointing to the huge area out the front with 360-degree views.
Snow’s home hints at his eccentricities and a man who has lived a fascinating life. A memorial to Dylan, one of his three children, who died tragically earlier this year, sits in the centre. Photo frames dot the living area, filled with images of friends and family; he tells me he has just welcomed a new grandchild. There’s a karaoke room out the back, Elvis memorabilia and a guitar lying around, and mementos from places he’s visited on his travels.
Snow has indeed been on an extraordinary journey. His real name is Mark but no one calls him that – his childhood nickname has stuck. Growing up in the heart of Te Puke’s kiwifruit industry, he worked on orchards, toiling until dark and learning all about the fruit. He then travelled overseas to play rugby for the English team Huddersfield. He still looks like he could cause a bit of damage on the field.
Snow moved back to New Zealand in the late 1980s and began working as a foreman on kiwifruit orchards, getting his hands dirty. “I never thought about going to uni, because of kiwifruit,” he says.
One of Snow’s rugby mates, the late former All Black Doug Rollerson, one day suggested his affable personality would be ideal for a sales job. “But I didn’t want to sell printers or anything, so I ended up in real estate selling orchards.” Fast forward 26 years and Snow has earned a reputation as the pre-eminent expert in kiwifruit real estate.
He says the market has had its ups and downs, but orchards are booming under Zespri, the co-operative that markets and exports kiwifruit overseas. “[Orchard] valuations are the highest they’ve ever been, the price of fruit is rising, and it’s a great time for people looking at succession planning or to sell if they’re getting older. The orchards also offer great income each year and are perfect for people looking for a change in lifestyle or an investment.”
For Snow, kiwifruit is intertwined with this region. “It supports a hell of a lot of people, from production to transport.” He says working in the kiwifruit industry is “all about respect”. “You’re dealing with sensitive information. It’s the biggest thing for clients – it’s their income. I’m a local boy and know how much this industry means to the community.”
Snow’s background and network give him inside knowledge that enables him to find the best deals. “You need that knowledge about husbandry and cultivation of the orchard, [plus] if an orchard’s coming up for sale, I’ve got a database of people and can find that person. I get how this industry works, and know the potential of an orchard. It’s about connecting people with the right people.”
After more than a quarter of a century in his field, Snow still has a real passion for his work. After we speak, he’s off to the Mount to network with some more orchard owners; the job never stops. While we chat, he checks on his veges – and doesn’t let me leave without a big bag of gold kiwifruit.