⬆︎Exterior of the company. Very basic, semi-permanent architecture.
I wasn’t expecting myself to blog about this job, nor this company.
After traveling the South Island with my parents, I wasn’t looking forward to work in a factory job (again!)
I was looking forward to start off in the dairy farm industry, but it was “dry off” season in June and early July, which means that I needed to look for a job to fill up this period of time before I could get a dairy farm job. More on that later.
Jobs are extremely scarce in winter, opportunities limited. I searched up online on possible job openings and accommodation. After much blood-vomiting effort and thousands of job applications later, I found an employment agency based in Ashburton and sent an email to enquire about the jobs available.
The agency replied my first email, regarding the current job openings, and I’ve never heard from them ever since. After countless of unreturned emails, I had to drive for hours to walk-in to the agency to ask for a job. I waited for almost a week before I could start working in Van Zanten Flowerbulbs in Rakaia.
The thing about working under an agency is that our pay is given by the agency and our working times are informed by the agency. We even had to go through a drug test – basically peeing in a cup – to get the job. It was such a hassle. We could’ve just walked in to the company to apply for a job, but the HR was not working on a Saturday.
What is Van Zanten? What's a flowerbulb?
I have never in my life knew that flowerbulbs existed in this world. I’ve not read about it in books nor watched them in movies or shows. But I guess I was just ignorant. Or uninformed.
I do not have a single clue what the company is, what the company does, or what a flowerbulb is when I first started working for Van Zanten. I looked at the flowerbulbs vibrating down the belt on my first day thinking how much they resembled garlics. I even imagined myself eating them.
Basically, Royal Van Zanten is a Dutch company, with the mother company based in Holland. They process lily flowerbulbs to be sold/exported and then planted to grow lily flowers.
In addition to not knowing about the existence of flowerbulbs, I also didn’t know that there can be so many varieties of flowerbulbs, with fancy names too. Some of the names that I could remember are Lexus Zanlorexus, Viviana Zantriana, Tourega, Siberia, Tisento, Merida, Bendigo, Tabledance, Conca D’or, Silentia, Signum and so on… The only difference between the flowerbulbs and the different varieties is the colours of the flowers that may grow out of the flowerbulb. Red, white, yellow, pink,…
Royal Van Zanten exports flowerbulbs to Japan, China, Taiwan, Europe, India, Australia, Mexico, Vietnam and so on.
A flowerbulb looks like this:
⬆︎Remember I talked about the different sizes of flowerbulbs? Well, this flowerbulb right here is the biggest of the sizes. From the images above, you can see how it’s almost as big as the palm of my hand.
Departments in Royal Van Zanten
There are four departments in the company. Louis and I were both lucky to have the opportunity to work in all four departments.
Four departments: Plant Stock, Cleaning Belt, Weigh Counter, and Packing.
⬆︎Processed flowerbulbs from the Plant Stock department. They come in different sizes and colours.
Plant stock is the first department that I was in when I first arrived in Van Zanten. I guess you could say that this is the first place where the harvested flowerbulbs came in in its purest and untouched form, covered in clumps of dirt, of different sizes and colours.
What we did:
We had to untangle and separate them into individual flowerbulbs. Most of the time they come in big clumps of dirt and we had to use our biceps, triceps, or whatever ceps there are to twist, pull, and tug them apart. Unlike all the other departments, plant stock department has only ONE machine, and ONE line; therefore, a maximum of 6 people were required to do the job. It was a good department to work in because all the physical pulling and twisting helped us stay warm throughout the winter nights.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that I was working midnight shift in the plant stock department from 11pm to 7am in the morning. It was not fun trying to adapt to a new sleep schedule. The midnight shift ended as soon as the plant stock department was no longer required. This department was closed by the 18th of June, 2019. Therefore, we were moved to another department.
That’s “working midnight shift” ticked off my bucket list!
⬆︎Louis on midnight shift.
⬆︎Cleaning belt department
Once the flowerbulbs were separated from the plant stock department, they entered big bins and were then sent to the Cleaning Belt Department for further cleaning and separation.
With 4 lines going on at the same time, the cleaning belt department could easily have 20-30 workers cleaning possibly a million bulbs a day.
Louis and I were never permanently in the cleaning belt department.
What we did:
As the name suggests, we clean the bulbs that have been separated from Plant Stock department and “clean” them. Sometimes when it was impossible to separate them at the plant stock department, the cleaning belt will continue the job.
The cons of working in this department would be the tedious and repetitive work, nothing too far from working at the kiwifruit pack house. Apart from that, on days when certain varieties are in bad shape, workers at the cleaning belt will start getting sore wrists and swollen hands from far too much of plucking off the dried flowers from the flowerbulbs. I’ve even heard that some girls woke up from their sleep at night because their wrists hurt so much.
⬆︎ The belts where the flowerbulbs will come in to be “cleaned”.
I’ve only truly worked in weigh counter once as a grader. In my last two weeks here, I was promoted to become the supervisor of the weigh counter.
In this department, 8 workers will stand on 8 different belts where bulbs will roll out to be graded.
Due to winter, girls in this department are often frozen solid by the end of the day because they did not move much. Most of them wear an average of 4-5 layers of clothing, 2 pair of gloves, and 2 pair of socks.
What I did:
I eliminated the flowerbulbs with too much dirt/mud in them; flowerbulbs with less than 2 strong roots; damaged flowerbulbs (either from harvest or at the cleaning belt); undersized flowerbulbs that did not go through the given sizing; and bulbs with double noses (happens due to stress in the environment, they grow two noses instead of one)
⬆︎I snapped a photo of the girls working at the weigh counter.
⬆︎The girls putting the “rejects” onto the belt to go in the dump.
Other jobs in this department include:
– Stacking the crates filled with bulbs, usually done by guys because the crates can be really heavy. Louis did this once.
– Standing at the front line to ensure every bulb that comes down from the belt enters into individual cups. No two, three, four, or five flowerbulbs should be in the same cup as the weighing machine might mistaken it as a big size bulb, thus sending it to the wrong sizing belt (where the girls will grade them), or into the dump.
⬆︎An overview of the packing line.
After the bulbs have been weighed, graded, measured, and selected in the weigh counter, they were finally sent to the last department – packing.
By far my favourite department. Louis and I were sent to this department after plant stock.
Basically, this department needs only 3 girls, 3 guys, 1 labeler, and a forklift driver.
What we did:
Guy 1 tips the flowerbulbs from the crates onto a moving belt and hands the now empty crate to Girl 1.
Girl 1 layers plastic bags on the empty crates and pushes them over to Guy 2 (shaker).
Guy 2 (shaker) is in charged of receiving the bulbs (now covered in soil and chemicals) coming out from the belt and passes it on to Girl 2.
Girl 2 wraps up the crate filled with flowerbulbs and soil (also known as peat) and passes it on to Girl 3.
Girl 3 will add a cardboard top on the crate and passes it to Guy 3.
Guy 3 will stack them up on a pallet. 45x crates on a pallet.
And finally, the forklift driver will remove the pallet once it is full to the labeler (which is me) to be labeled and recorded before it goes into the chiller.
It is because of my job as a labeler that I got promoted to become the supervisor at the weigh counter.
In the packing department, everyone feels like family, because we work together, laugh together, and eat together.
It was also in this department that I learned how to drive a forklift.
Colleagues, friends, and the people.
⬆︎We stayed in an accommodation just 4-minute walk away from the bulb factory. We stayed with 3 outgoing dutch guys and 3 amazing French girls who provided us with unceasing laughter, joy, and plenty of good food.
⬆︎ With boss and colleagues. They made our time in Van Zanten bearable.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time here in Van Zanten. Even though it was only for a while, I learned more things than I could’ve imagined, and met more people than I could’ve ever hoped for.