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Creating the "buy local" feel all over the world

By Anna Campbell

Bright and early on Saturday morning I visited the Otago Farmers’ market for the first time in a couple of years. Yes, shame on me for leaving it so long, because the Farmers’ market is a great place to be. Along with buying produce for the week, my father, daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed tucking into crepes and freshly brewed coffee while soaking up the shimmering winter light. I left to watch my son’s rugby with a full belly and a very fine mood, promising myself I would start off more of my weekends in this way. 

More farmers' markets?

Buying local appeals to all of us, getting to meet and form a relationship with our food growers -albeit fleeting if you only go once every two years- feels “right” somehow and all week I will bask in a slightly virtuous feeling while slicing up my fresh veges. In New Zealand, we take our ability to do this for granted, even when we go to the supermarket, most of us have an innate trust in the brands we see and buy. This trust is somewhat naïve given the complexity of international food chains, as highlighted by the Tesco’s horsemeat scandal. 

So should we develop more farmers’ markets and promote that people only buy local? Unfortunately, this proposition would be an unmitigated disaster for New Zealand given 99% of what we produce is sold to people all over the world -definitely not buying local. Food is a great bargaining chip in world trade right now and we are in an enviable position where we not only have enough food to feed our own population but we have enough food, produced in a safe manner, to feature in very desirable retail outlets all over the world. When in China, I love visiting their supermarkets and seeing such brands as Comvita and Zespri linked with our wonderful New Zealand image. I speak with consumers and hear from young mothers in particular, of the hours spent online researching brand integrity. What always comes out, no matter who I speak with is a great love of New Zealand food products.

Safety first

The reality for most countries is that they have to import food to feed their people. Indonesia has tried to reduce their reliance on imported beef by developing a self-sufficiency agenda and instigating trade barriers. Unfortunately this has led to massive hikes in the price of beef, a decrease in the country’s breeding stock as breeding cows are slaughtered to capitalise on high meat prices and greater issues of counterfeit meat-people selling pork and poultry as beef products. Indonesia is now revisiting their policy and opening up import avenues again. Add to this the environmental cost to some countries of producing food in areas that are not suitable for their population size and the buy local theory falls over again. 

In the words of Jack Bobo, a Senior Advisor for Biotechnology at the U.S. Department of State, “This is the most important 40 years we will ever have in the history of agriculture…cheap food is not what people want, they want safe food.”

So how do we achieve this on a global scale and give consumers the connectivity to their food producers that we all desire? 

Two ways: 1. Science- continue to develop production systems for crops and livestock which produce more from less land whilst minimising environmental impact; 2. Storytelling-to connect our buyers with our growers in an authentic way.

Storytelling and science in the same sentence, the two seem like a contradiction, yet that is what is so exciting. We need to create my “farmers' market feeling” for anyone buying New Zealand food wherever they are. At the same time internationally we need to keep increasing crop and livestock yields. New Zealand agriculturalists can play a big part in both roles. 

I plan on showing up at the Otago Farmers' market again this weekend, buying local but working out how to connect my local with the world. This time though, I will take a leaf from my daughter’s book and kick the savoury crepe to touch, a chocolate, banana and cream crepe has my name on it -life is short!