The horticulture industry does not have a strong reputation in New Zealand when it comes to the treatment of workers. It's stories like the recent article by Stuff journalist Kirsty Johnston that highlight the bad actors in this space, and ultimately why we decided to take a different path.
Flexi House is a New Zealand startup that has recently had a lot of press because our Orchard was the site of their first proof of concept build. A 70 square metre panelised housing unit manufactured in Wellington, bought down to our Orchard in Cromwell, and assembled and made weathertight in 13 hours.
I (Mike Casey) was the lead investor in Flexi because I was impressed by their concept of scale, something that could be taken advantage of by New Zealand's first home buyers, young families and, indeed, growing businesses such as my own. Flexi can be easily expanded with zero construction waste by simply taking off the exterior wall, adding more panels, and then putting the exterior wall back on.
Right now, our orchard is young, and as our trees mature, we will need more employees to help our business function and grow. Our staff requirements will scale massively as we move from a forecast 15 tonne harvest this year to over 100 tonnes in the summer of 2025/2026.
The Central Otago District Council saw our vision and granted us resource consent for up to four bedrooms. However, for the first build, we only requested building consent for one - with the plan to scale through adding more panels each season.
Unlike the horror stories just published on Stuff.co.nz, Flexi has a heat recovery system, high performance envelope, air tightness and vapour control layer, which achieves 1.29 air changes per hour (ACH) - much less than the standard 7-9 air changes an hour. This allows for much more control over the indoor environment, keeping the warmth inside, while ventilating for fresh air. Cool in summer and warm in the winter, with only a 4.2kW heat pump.