Is the food policy pasture greener in New Zealand?

Anne_Palmer-reducedBy Anne Palmer

Program Director
Food Communities & Public Health Program
Center for a Livable Future
Johns Hopkins University

Anne was a keynote speaker for the Local Food Northland Conference in February this year. In this post she reflects on her time in New Zealand. See the original post here.


A failing dairy industry. Streams polluted by animal manure. Consolidated food retail, inadequate slaughter facilities for small – and medium-size producers, the list goes on. Where am I? New Zealand. Yep. Before I stepped foot on the soil, I was cautioned that I should not believe the “cleaner, greener” moniker. I’m not sure if it was heartening to blow up the myth and realize we are all suffering from industrialization of the food system, or just depressing that problems in the food system are dispersed so far and wide.
The solutions are dispersed, too. Back in September, Peter Bruce-Iri from Local Food Northland invited me to New Zealand to keynote and participate in a two-day food conference. He had studied the food council model and wanted to introduce it as part of a larger strategy for rebuilding the Northland’s regional food system. It took me about 30 seconds to make my decision (even with my carbon footprint in mind). How could I say no to New Zealand? Peter suggested additional connections for me to make my trip even more meaningful, including a webinar for the Good Food Network organized by Emily Dowding-Smith from the Sustainable Business Network and a workshop with Healthy Families Rotorua, arranged by Jasmin Jackson.The original plan was to hold an advance food-foraging event that would provide food for the conference. (I imagined myself in an Omnivore’s Dilemma scenario, but the wild boar would remind me of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web). That plan was thwarted by regulations that prohibit the sale of food that has been “caught wild.” Nevertheless, thanks to Ian and his sous chefs, I gained three pounds in eight days. And every pound was worth it. Even though we were unable to forage for our meals, most of the delicious food was sourced locally.

I spent my Saturday morning at the Whangarei Growers Market with Jeff Griggs, a co-founder of the Local Food Northland endeavor. Jeff is an American who immigrated to New Zealand many years ago and now farms avocados and cut flowers, along with other produce like kiwifruit outside of town with his dog, Ted. The oldest growers market in New Zealand, Whangarei Growers Market regulates that you can only sell what you grow, and Robert, the market manager and 70-year-old farmer, explained he has no problem tracking down the offenders because the produce looks different. I watched him collect the $20 stall fee from vendors while we shopped for Luisa plums, blueberries and lavender products. (Note to self: organize trips based on seasonal harvesting schedules).

After the market, Jeff invited me to join the weekly Whangarei Transition Town meeting at the local library where residents discuss ways they can improve self-sufficiency at the local level. Originating in the UK in 2006, the Transition Towns movement seeks to address peak oil and climate change, and challenge the notion of unlimited economic growth. We had a lively discussion about school gardens, people’s eating habits, electric cars (thanks, Ross) and more.

handsome frog

And now on to the conference. Close to 100 people gathered at the marae (including students from North-Tec, growers, public health professionals, chefs and researchers) for the powhiri, a traditional Maori welcome. Whangarei’s mayor, Sheryl Mai, also welcomed us in Maori. Participants lined up to touch foreheads and noses with the planning committee, a Maori greeting called hongi, which symbolizes sharing the breath of life. As a lifelong hugger, this was a reverent experience.I talked about the various food movements in the U.S. with a special focus on what is happening around food policy councils, why policy is important and how the various food movements are working together to activate change. (One participant told me he never thought policy was important until he heard me. Best compliment ever.)

Over the two days, we heard from Peter about the features of a sustainable food system and importance of scale-appropriate policy. Ruth Marsh introduced the Vermont Farm to Plate framework, which Local Food Northland has been using to guide their regional effort. Rangimarie Price talked about how Maori principles on sustainability are embedded in the local food strategy. Jeff discussed how to connect and build a network for collaborating. There was a lively discussion about the role of chefs and restaurants in supporting local producers. While some of the larger cities have capitalized on the farm-to-table concept, in smaller cities like Whangarei, chefs are sourcing from local growers with very little or no marketing efforts.

I joined the policy discussion for the small group breakout and heard Regina, a NorthTec student and single mom who is working with faculty on various food endeavors, bemoan the demise of her kitchen garden this year because she is going to school full-time and raising her four children. I have heard this same conundrum in many focus groups and community meetings in Baltimore; doing the “right thing” frequently falls on the backs of those who have the least amount of time.

On Day Two, we heard from renowned nutrition scientist Barbara Burlingame about sustainable diets and nutritional superiority of native bananas versus the Cavendish variety that is ubiquitous in supermarkets around the world. Northland has a variety that reminds me of passionfruit, and there are discussions about reviving that industry. (Lucky for Northland, Barbara just moved back to Wellington and joined the faculty at Massey University after 16 years at FAO in Rome as the deputy director of the nutrition section). Dr. Melissa Gilbert, an integrative medicine doctor, discussed her efforts to get patients to grow and eat from backyards. Dr. Laupepa Va’a from the district health board talked about food recovery efforts in Northland. A diverse panel of growers debated the challenges they face from a policy and climate perspective, while another panel focused on the role of food hubs in rebuilding distribution systems. Clive McKegg, the third leg of the Local Food Northland founding members (along with Peter and Jeff), wrapped up the conference by discussing how the Local Food Northland’s mission “to establish Northland as a centre for growing and processing tasty healthy foods in ways that build community cohesion, increased economic resilience, improve health outcomes and enhance the natural environment” can be actualized in their collective efforts. I left inspired and remain inspired as I witness the conference follow-up on the Loomio online platform, designed by a New Zealand company.

After my time in Whangarei, I traveled to Rotorua, which was challenging. I liken this part of the journey to the 80s classic movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (think Buses, Cars and Hitchhiking). Lucky for me, Hayley, another conference attendee, was scheduled on my flight and she took the reins to get me to my destination that day. I strolled around Rotorua’s thermal lake, careful not to step in a bubbling hole, and enjoyed the hotel’s thermal pools while preparing for the second workshop.

Jasmin Jackson from Healthy Families Rotorua invited me to meet with groups from Rotorua and Tauranga who have been engaged in food and nutrition activities in their area and want to expand to policy. About 45 people attended the workshop, many from the public health sector. Healthy Families, working in 10 locations across New Zealand, is a national initiative that seeks to create health-promoting environments in the community and is involved with food policy efforts in other parts of the country. We talked about the opportunities and challenges associated with local food policy and ideas for strengthening their network. Even with the central government driving most legislation, I learned that New Zealand’s regional government structure offers options for organizing, especially around regulations for small-scale growers, land use, distribution networks and public health. I heard several participants talk about the importance of policy being informed by research, opportunity to expand public health mapping to other food system components and the need to better understand existing supply chains to improve distribution.

I travelled 23 hours to find myself in a beautiful location (since this is a food policy blog, I did not talk about the beautiful beaches, frolicking dolphins or the rails-to-trails bike ride, but those were also remarkable) that is facing many of the same issues we have in the U.S., albeit at a different scale. It is a scale that may serve them well as I witness the conversations among the conference participants already deciding how to move forward. I invite them to share their challenges and successes with us here in Crazy Town, where microwaves spy on you.

Fresh food co-op Onerahi hub

Story and photos by Jacqueline Low (thank you Jacqueline). Originally published in the September edition of the Onerahi Orbit.

Since the article was printed, the Onerahi hub has opened! And in late September, The Fresh Fruit Collective achieved 100% local supply for the first time. Here is their Facebook page.

David and Sylvia Moore of Tahuna Place, Onerahi set sail from their home in Wellington for Fiji and Vanuatu. On their return they tied up at Marsden Cove and decided they wouldn’t leave Whangarei.david-and-sylvia-moore

David and Sylvia Moore, above, aim to provide 100 percent locally-grown produce by this time next year.

They moored their boat Kiss at the Town Basin and lived on it while sorting out a place to call home on terra firma.

They are in the throes of settling
into their new house but that has not dampened their ardour for setting up a Fresh Food Collective Hub at Onerahi.

The Fresh Food Collective was the brainchild of Laura Cates of Whangarei and was started by her in January, 2015. It provides a means of buying fresh produce at a much reduced cost.

Customers place orders online and pay a week in advance. On picking up their produce they can pay for the next week’s supply. Produce is purchased by the Collective according to the number of orders, to avoid having a surplus.

On advice from a friend Sylvia and David started going to the Fresh Food Collective at the Whangarei Club central depot, every Tuesday, to collect and order their fruit and vegetables. There they met Laura. Sylvia offered to help her several times and one day in March Laura asked her if she would fill in as she had two staff absent. Sylvia tried it out and enjoyed it. Laura asked if she would be interested in taking over from her.

“I said, well, we’ve just bought a house. I can’t really afford to buy a business and she said, ‘I’m walking away from it’.” Laura chose to walk away because of family commitments and handed her share of the business over to David and Sylvia Moore.

George Lavich, whom the Moores
 had met earlier, when volunteering for the Fifa Under 20s Football event at Whangarei was asked to help Sylvia and David to run the Collective in the CBD.

The Moores had been giving George wood and they discussed the idea of the three of them forming a company.

“We said would he be interested perhaps in joining us. I’ve got a financial background and office management, David has been in marketing and production work and George had been in management and marketing as well,” Sylvia said.

“George knew a lot of people in Whangarei and he doesn’t mind going to talk to people, the market gardeners and people like that and I’m quite shy really when it comes to that. So, that’s how it evolved,” she said. It became the Fresh Food Collective 2016 Limited and was incorporated on March 24, this year. There are three directors, George Lavich, David and Sylvia Moore.

Laura had said to Sylvia that a hub at Onerahi was on the plans but they had not got that far yet.

David and Sylvia took up the cause and are aiming to find a facility available to them for one day a week to set up a Fresh Food Collective Hub at Onerahi in the second half of September. The venue will be in the vicinity
of the Onerahi Community Centre.

The thought behind the original hubs was to place them close
to schools so from 2:30pm to 3:30pm when caregivers pick up children they can also pick up their vegetables and fruit.

They are planning to do a mail drop in Onerahi which will have all the detailed information.

“Three of us are going to walk Onerahi, delivering flyers” Sylvia said.

The business relies on volunteers, “and we are meeting our costs because we want to do it as a community thing rather than making money,” she said. The Moores are retired and don’t need to have it as a business: “So long as we can get produce.”

People are saying, “You’re not even charging for delivery,” she said. If five people in a work place put in an order the Collective is happy to deliver those orders for free, within the CBD, Sylvia said.

They have two women who are regular volunteers, Joanna Davis and Kath Tipene and there are others but we have to build on that list,” Sylvia said. When Sylvia and David started they had only 36 customers to deal with now they’ve reached the 100 mark.

While people do save a lot of money through the scheme, at this time of year the savings are not as lucrative as at other times “but what we are selling is fresh.
“Our vegetables and fruit are fresh because it was picked the day before and some is picked on the day,” Sylvia said.

The collective prides itself on sourcing fresh fruit and vegetables and is aiming to have 100 percent locally grown produce by this time next year. They got a contact for garlic and purple kumara, shallots and ginger from Dargaville “and they will grow for us,” Sylvia said.

At the moment they gather all the local vegetables and fruit they can. George, Sylvia and David collect it fresh on the day from growers like Huanui Orchards and the gardens at Poroti. Fruit has always come from local orchards and also from some individuals. George arranges to go and pick their oranges, mandarins or other fruit crops the day before or on the morning of the collective.


George Lavich (left) and David Moore weigh mandarins at the Fresh Food Collective Hub at the CBD.

Sylvia tries to get a different selection each week, such as a stir-fry pack one week and a roasting pack with kumara, pumpkin and potatoes the next. They have found a source at Dargaville for purple kumara and another at Waikaraka to supply tomatoes.

“We want to support the local growers. Local produce usually means the odd surprising slug but these days that is a stamp of approval,” Sylvia said.

Quite often people give them extras.

“Someone bought us lemons the other day so a lemon went in every bag. There is a minimum of nine different items that you get in a $23 bag and 6 in a $12 bag but we have had up to 15 items per order. If people give us produce we put it in because it is nice to share”.

“This is where we try to get in with the community gardens as well. It could be that we give them seeds or something for the next lot and they give us some produce for the bags.”

Sylvia said that they are not young anymore and she finds although she has a finance background all of a sudden she has to start going back into Excel and all it entails. “I’ve now streamlined it so it’s not taking as much time but was just a mound of paperwork. “It’s relentless because Tuesday comes, by Wednesday we’re frazzled so we have an easy day but there are all the emails and things to deal with.

There’s always a sigh of relief once the stuff is bagged and there’s a lot of work behind the scenes but Sylvia said: “We’re enjoying it. It’s keeping us out of the doctor’s surgery. We haven’t got time to think about what’s wrong with us. You have to get up and go.”

Northland Food Policy Council Hui

As part of our food re-localisation project we have initiated meetings with interested parties across Northland. This is about discussing options and developing membership of a “Food Policy Council” from a wide cross section of education, health, growers, processors and so on in Northland.

The first took place in Waipapa and involved people from Four Seasons Farms (eco-biological production of food or Community Seed Banking), Edible Kerikeri (utilising public spaces for food production), Far North Resilient Communities Trust (Timebanking, facilitation of all types of community development in the Far North), and Far North Civil Defence and ourselves (many of the participants also wear multiple “hats” in other organisations – the beauty of Northland!).

img_1564The second meeting was hosted by Te Rarawa in Kaitaia and also included representatives from Healthy Families Far North, Four Seasons Farms and FNDC. We were warmly welcomed by Executive Officer Kevin Robinson. Obviously the emphasis on a sustainable local food movement hits a chord with all concerned with the future of our communities and our tamariki.

One of the key ideas to come out of our hui was the importance of creating new stories that show that there are alternatives to our current economic models and that communities can rise up and make a difference. Out of this thought came the idea of working collaboratively with one Northland community to create prototype for other communities to learn from. Watch this space!

Thanks to FNDC/Manaia Health Kai Ora fund for help with our costs for attending these meetings 🙂

Cheese and why we need a food policy council

Artisan cheese makers like Biddy Fraser-Davies could be forced out of business by soaring government compliance costs. The Food Safety Law Reform Bill may well result in higher compliance costs.

Biddy makes about $40,000 of cheese from four cows. Her cheeses have won super gold and silver at World Cheese Awards. She milks the cows herself and makes the cheese. For images of her cheese making process see Biddy’s website.


Biddy making cheese (image from Radio NZ)

Her cheese is made from raw milk and authorities have concerns about microbes. Before 2009 her compliance costs used to be a couple of hundred dollars a year. That year they went up to $5500. Because of her small scale, her costs now total $260 per kilo (you can read more detail in the Radio NZ article).

This is insane.

Compliance or risk?

One issue is the number of microbes permitted. According to the Radio NZ article, biddy says “In New Zealand it’s been set that you can’t have more than 1000, but in England the level is 10,000 and in Europe it’s 100,000. The raw cheese that is imported into New Zealand is allowed to have those higher standards.”

Many of you will experience creep of compliance in your work or businesses. It would be more appropriate in cases such as Biddy’s to assess risk. A two factor risk assessment process considers both the likelihood and the impact of an adverse event occurring. There was a report of a death from the consumption of raw milk in Australia a year or so ago, but how many rural families have been consuming raw milk for decades? When did you last hear of a health issue around raw milk?  As an international prize-winning cheese maker, we can probably assume that Biddy approaches her craft with a high levels of professionalism. I would assume the likelihood of a health problem from eating her cheese is very low.

With her low volumes of production, the impact would also be low. By contrast, while Fonterra has excellent food safety standards, the impact of a bad batch of cheese would be much higher, based on their scale and global market presence.

The role of a Food Policy Council

Local Food Northland is in the process of researching the feasibility of establishing a Food Policy Council in Northland. This would be modelled on the work of the 282 Food Policy Councils in North America. A Food Policy Council would be a voice in policy for smaller food producers. The state of Vermont, for example has developed a regional plan to restore balance and sanity to regulations. Here is goal 23 of their plan:

“Regulations and enforcement capacity will ensure food safety, be scale appropriate, and allow Vermont food enterprises to increase production and expand their market outlets”.

The key words here are “scale appropriate”. The second part of the goal links increased production and expansion of markets to this scale appropriateness.

It seems that we have a government that pursues big economic numbers, but a strength of our economy is small business. Clumsy compliance will drive more small businesses to the wall. We only have three raw cheese makers in the country. It would be nice to increase that number, but I fear they will disappear.

If we can establish a Food Policy Council in Northland, hopefully they will be replicated around the country, enabling us to make our voice heard.


Isobel.pngBiddy will be speaking at a select committee hearing into the bill on 13 October in Wellington. All power to her and her four cows, Dizzy, Holly, Patsy and Isobel!

And more on raw milk soon.

Here’s Isobel.





The Fresh Food Collective achieves 100% local food!


The Fresh Food Collective reached a milestone last Tuesday. For the very first time they achieved 100% locally grown produce. They have often hit 80% and the goal of procuring all produce from local growers with in 12 months seemed at times very challenging.

George Lavich and the team are very excited about achieving this milestone and will continue to work with local growers  to support a sustainable Northland.

Our research has revealed that when locally sourced food replaces food sourced from outside the region, there is a two to four times beneficial economic multiplier of both money and jobs. Customers are getting healthy fresh food at great prices and supporting local growers – a win-win.

George Lavich.png

George Lavich at the Fresh Food Collective’s hub at the Whangarei Club (image from the Northern Advocate)

George, along with David and Sylvia Moore acquired the Fresh Food Collective from Laura Cates in April. Customer numbers are building slowly, but it is clear that for George, David and Sylvia and the volunteers that support them, that they are driven by a strong sense of purpose rather than any financial motive. George is particularly passionate about supporting local growers and is busy seeking out potential suppliers.

The Fresh Food Collective is opening a new hub at the Onerahi Play Centre on Tuesday 20th of October.

Fresh food collective.png

Their $12 and $23 packs offer impressive value and variety. For more information see their website.


Fruit and nuts unlimited

Earthcare Education Aotearoa are finding inspirational stories about local food across Aotearoa (New Zealand). Their latest video explores plantings of fruit and nut trees in public spaces from 50 locations around the country. This video introduces the project.

Fruit & Nuts UNLIMITED! – TRAILER from The Localising Food Project on Vimeo.

Here is a link to their Pledge Me site to fund the project.