National Farmers’ Market Week is coming up and, in the wake of cyclone Gabrielle and the ongoing cost of living crisis, it provides us with an opportunity to consider our food supply chains and where our priorities should lie when thinking about the use of our arable land.
The recent wild weather in the northern and eastern regions of New Zealand’s has highlighted our food insecurity. When infrastructure is destroyed communities can quickly run out of basic foods if there is no local system in place. Farmers’ markets are an antidote to this problem. Authentic farmers’ markets are different from any other kind of market or shop in that the person selling the food is the person who’s grown, caught or made it, so there’s a direct link between farmer and consumer.
Farmers’ Markets can be found across New Zealand from the Bay of Islands to Invercargill, in rural and urban locations providing the freshest, most local food to their communities. Generally held on a Saturday or Sunday morning, customers choose to shop with these small businesses that make up a farmers’ market. Every purchase supports a small local business rather than the supermarket duopoly. There are approximately 25 authentic farmers’ markets around New Zealand which make up over 1000+ small food businesses, with an estimated 50,000+ customers supporting them every week of the year.
Prices can be cheaper than the supermarkets and many staples can be purchased – seasonal vegetables and fruit, meat, fish, eggs, dairy produce and bread. With the prices of food escalating in the supermarkets, shopping at a farmers’ market is a viable option and National Farmers’ Market week is one way of promoting the markets to the wider public that are not yet market shoppers.
The term ‘farmer’ carries a variety of associations. When people who aren’t ensconced in rural communities hear the word, images spring to mind of a hardy small holder, a yeoman, pitchfork in hand, tending the soil. It’s a pre-industrial association that we have held on to through children’s books and nursery rhymes. The people who sell food at farmers’ markets may use all the technology available to them but they are not entirely divorced from this childish notion of the farmer as entertained by urbanites like me. They grow food, and people in their community purchase and eat that food.
However, when Fonterra for example, talk about farmers they are talking about something completely different. They are talking about industrialists who happen to be producing milk products. The majority of New Zealand dairy farmers (our most prolific polluters lest we forget) are not selling glass bottles of milk at your local farmers’ market. They are mostly not producing food to be consumed in New Zealand. It could be argued that, in the case of milk powder and other super-processed products, they are not producing food at all.
The cost of living crisis and the recent weather events are bringing home to many New Zealanders how precarious our food supply is. Many people in this country, a country dominated both geographically and culturally by ‘farmers’, can not afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. This is disgraceful. We need to stop using our land to extract maximum profits for industrialists, and get back to feeding our whanau with fresh, nutritious, and affordable kai.