Day 36: How Mr. and Mrs. Gock Saved the Kumara

I stumbled across a short film last week about an inspiring Chinese couple who immigrated to New Zealand in the 1950’s. Mr. Gock, being a bit of an inventor and experimenter, found amazing ways to give back to their new country. I love the film not just for the story and the Gocks themselves, but because it was made to show the contributions that immigrants have made to New Zealand. The film is called How Mr. and Mrs. Gock Saved the Kumara.

The couple are hilarious and obviously very happy together and the story is about one of the most popular and common foods in New Zealand — the kumara. A kumara is what would be called a sweet potato in other countries. There’s a whole write-up on it in Wikipedia but I thought it was really interesting that the Quechua (a native language in Peru) name for sweet potato is kumar which is awfully similar to kumara which is the Polynesian name for it!

Kumara is everywhere in New Zealand — it’s so common that you will find it in just about every kind of restaurant you can imagine. There are three varieties including red, orange and gold but the most common is the red one. You’ll find kumara chips (french fries), kumara mashed potatoes, kumara pizza, kumara crisps (potato chips), or kumara chopped in soups or salads or just whatever.

When Black Rot threatened to wipe out the kumara industry in the 1950s, The Gocks gave a disease-resistant strain of the kumara to New Zealand and refused to be paid for it. Mr. Gock invented a way to store kumara year-round so that it didn’t go bad and he invented a way to heat the ground to make it easier to grow them. For their contributions, New Zealand gave Joe the Queen’s medal and the Prime Minister (John Key) awarded the Gocks the Bledisloe Cup which is a premier award for horticulture.

But what I love most about the video is the couple themselves and how they really embody the Kiwi mentality. They both came to New Zealand at a very young age (Joe was 12 and I assume Fay was close to that) — they laugh like Kiwis, talk like Kiwis, and have big hearts and awesome senses of humor just like most of the Kiwis I know.

The main picture today is from the botanic gardens in Hamilton. They have a Maori storage house there with kumara planted around it — the kumara is grown in little mounds called puke. I believe the purpose of the mounds is for drainage and to give the potato deep soil to grow in.

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