Luis Gazzola, 71, knew his Somerville family business, Gazzola Farms, was a finalist in the industry impact category of the AUSVEG National Awards for Excellence, but had no inkling he also was to receive a lifetime achievement award.
Wife Gloria and sons Paul, Colin and Andrew had managed to keep it a secret until the official announcement at the recent national awards dinner.
“I had no idea,” Luis said. “I was really honoured. I was in shock and in tears.”
Luis, Gloria, Paul and Joanne Gazzola with the Industry Awards
Mr Gazzola got his start in the industry working alongside his Italian migrant father, Matteo, at Narre Warren before and after school, on weekends and during school holidays, until he left school at 15.
For 31 years Luis grew vegetables in partnership with Silvio Favero, then worked three years as a wholesaler at the Melbourne Markets.
Unable to shake his passion for growing vegetables, Mr Gazzola bought two sugarcane properties near Bundaberg in Queensland, where sons Paul and Colin grew zucchinis, capsicums, watermelons and pumpkins for nine years.
Along with younger brother, Andrew, they now farm about 161ha at Somerville and 105ha at Boneo, producing a range of premium Asian vegetables, broccoli, carrots, celery, and cos and iceberg lettuce for markets across Australia.
AUSVEG CEO Richard Mulcahy with award winner Luis Gazzola
Mr Gazzola said the industry had changed dramatically in the past 56 years, with increasing levels of paperwork, red tape and rising production costs.
“Life was easier and we had time to ourselves,” said Luis. “Today it’s hectic. You have to go 12 months of the year flat-out and never stop.”
Mr Gazzola said most crops were still hand-picked and he was grateful to the new migrants who worked on the farms.
He said migrants have developed the Australian horticulture industry over the past 200 years and were vital to its future capability.