Where does your garlic come from?
My maternal grandparents were sheep and beef farmers in the Gisborne area. I don’t remember much from their farming years, my memories are of when they retired to Tucker Rd on the Gisborne flats. Despite the distance from Dunedin to Gisborne, I was close to them as I spent many summer holidays there. On these holidays, every couple of days we would go on a picnic outing – fishing off the wharf, swimming in Gisborne’s beautiful beaches or traveling to river spots in the hinterlands. Non-outing days were spent exploring the flats, playing cricket with brothers and cousins – Grandpa would mow a pitch on one of the paddocks – or playing hours of mah-jong and card games – Grandma was quite the card-shark.
They are pretty special memories and last week I was up in Gisborne for work and was able to travel to a few of our old haunts. The house in Tucker Road still looks much the same, but the surrounding properties look vastly different having been bought by large vegetable growing company, LeaderBrand. The Gisborne flats are known to be highly fertile and productive and now produce broccoli, spinach, and beetroot for the whole of New Zealand, alongside LeaderBrand’s other farms south of Auckland.
I love seeing farming and horticultural enterprises flourishing - opposite my Grandparent’s house there are now large-scale glasshouses and nurseries soaking up the Gisborne sun. Like a lot of food producers, vegetable growers have been under the pump and growing at scale or as a niche/hobbyist seem to be the only options.
In our southern part of the world, a drive out to Outram will reveal only a few paddocks of vegetables remain, whereas last century, Outram would have looked vastly different. Outram was once the home of Chinese market gardeners, who set up businesses after the gold mining rush. There is a fabulous online photo of three generations of the Ding family, taken in 1964, after they had hoed their market garden in Outram, ready to supply Dunedin households.
It seems vegetable growing has become the domain of large-scale business, and even then, urban sprawl into areas like South Auckland, will make these types of businesses less viable. Why would you grow cabbages, broccoli or carrots, when you can subdivide land for the life-stylers, earning more money, for far less arduous work?
5+ a day, is the nutritionists’ mantra for fresh fruit and vegetables - the key to a healthy diet – but perhaps increasingly, only in the domain of those who can afford it. I don’t know what the answer is for New Zealand vegetable growers or consumers. Should the vegetable growers push up the value chain as LeaderBrand has into salads or as as Deloitte Fast 50 company Pure Foods Co has – although they don’t grow the vegetables themselves, they are producing an impressive array of pureed vegetables and meats for elderly who have problems with chewing and swallowing. This is one answer, but if simple vegetable growing becomes unviable economically for companies and the every-day consumer, where will we source our carrots?
I always check where my garlic has been grown before I buy, often the cheaper garlic available in supermarkets is imported from China, a country battling with toxic soil pollution (check out this link here). I would prefer to buy locally grown garlic and pay more, but I can afford to. Should the Government remove GST from fresh fruit and vegetables, or would this become a bureaucratic nightmare for business? Should we be marking vast tracks of land for food-only production for evermore and will this solve a problem of urban sprawl and increasing land prices?
I don’t have the answers, but as I reflect on my wonderful Grandparents and my sojourns at Tucker Road, I can only think of all the things that change and all the things I wish would stay the same.