Food recovery in Northland

Dr Laupepa Va’a of the Northland District Health Board (DHB) is working on a major project investigating the feasibility of a more integrated approach to food recovery. He is busy engaging people involved in food recovery and food access.

Globally, we waste one third of food produced. The good news is that we produce enough to feed everybody already. This graphic from the Love Food Hate Waste website reveals over one trillion dollars of food waste, most of it from the degradation of nature.


In New Zealand, the average family throws away $563 worth of uneaten food per year. Bread is at the top of our waste list – we throw out 12,856 tonnes of bread.  Click here for a larger image.


Reducing our waste is a win-win. In the Northland context, we know that there are many children going to school hungry. Food for Life is doing a great job in Whangarei, but they are only able to operate in a handful of schools. Hungery school children don’t learn very well.

In addition to providing better food access, there are many environmental benefits from reducing food waste.

Sources for food recovery are diverse. In a recent post we featured Free Fish Heads, a website designed to connect those who have fish heads and normally dispose of them, and those who eat them. In Whangarei, Food for Life, operating across the road from the Whangarei Growers Market, gathers unsold food from generous stallholders and turns it into meals for school children.

The challenge is to identify all the potential sources of food and get it to those who are most needy.

If you would like to share any information with Laupepa please contact him: Laupepa.Va’


Kaiora honey

Manuka honey has enabled the Murray whanau in the Far North to re-establish a strong economic base back on their rohe (tribal lands). The story of Northlanders re-establishing their cultural and economic base on the land is a important and encouraging step in our move towards sustainable food systems.


Their story is told in this Country Calendar feature. (Note that the episode is incorrectly labelled on the TVNZ website). You will need to register to watch it.

Tae Murray returned to the north a qualified bee-keeper and his sister Blanche studied business and project  management. The rest of the whanau came back home to join the business. Kaiora Honey is now a thriving business exporting high value honey.

Manuka honey earns a huge premium in the international marketplace based on its health-giving qualities. The sought after healing properties of manuka honey are quantified in the unique manuka factor (UMF) rating indicated by the concentration of leptosperin in the honey.

Manuka and kanuka were once characterised as scrub, to be slashed or burnt to make way for pasture. The honey’s new status as a superfood is changing the dynamic of the landscape throughout New Zealand. People are now doing what was unthinkable a couple of decades ago, and replanting manuka. It is a pioneer plant that rejuvenates the soil and is many times more effective at sequestering carbon than pasture. As manuka and kanuka stands are enhanced, we have the opportunity to enrich ecosystems, protect waterways, and rejuvenate communities and local economies.

Here is Dr Josh Axe outlining the benefits of manuka honey.

And here is the article he refers to about the benefits of manuka honey. They include:

  1. reducing reflux and balancing the digestive system
  2. treating acne and eczema
  3. treating staph infections
  4. healing burns, wounds and ulcers
  5. healing tooth decay and gingivitis
  6. relieving inflammatory bowel disease
  7. boosting immunity
  8. relieving allergies and sinusitis
  9. improving skin tone and texture
  10. improving sleep.

The u.Lab free course is highly relevant to local food

Have you done a MOOC yet (Massive Online Open Course)? I have completed Otto Scharmer’s u.Lab course twice now, because it was so good. It is on again in September.

It is highly relevant to our aspirations for local food for at least two key concepts in the course. Otto Scharmer uses hi Theory U to illustrate how our societies and economies around the world have evolved through four stages. The first is state centric, based on hierarchy and centralised control. The next two, free market and social markets, introduced markets and competition and then moderating influences such as NGOs and unions. These three sectors continue to operate in conflict and have exhausted the extent of their value. Proponents of each suggest that more of their chosen ideology will provide the necessary remedy.


Otto Scharmer points to the emergence of a new societal model  – the co-creative society. It is the earlier three sectors, but rather than competing, they are working together – seeing and acting from the whole. In the local food context, we would not have monopolies dominating. The links between food production, consumption, health and a thriving local economy, that are so evident to us, will drive decision making when we get to look at things more holistically.

The second very relevant concept is about our listening. Otto Scharmer guides us through the need to suspend the voices of judgement, cynicism and fear to help us get to a space when we can co-create and together “step into the future that wants to emerge”.

Last year a group of Northlanders get together for weekly “coaching circles” as part of this course. If a group of us were to do the course we could create a coaching circle specifically focussing on local food. Please comment if you are interested.

Here is a link to a short self-paced introductory course and to details of the full course.


A Food Policy Council for Northland?

While current sustainable food system initiatives in Northland are admirable, as yet, they remain relatively poorly connected. If this were to continue, such initiatives will remain as a counter-culture in the prevailing industrial food system. Local Food Northland believe that developing a Northland food policy council, founded democratically as a “grass-roots” initiative with the task of preparing a regional food plan and fostering greater connectivity is a desirable step toward a more sustainable food system.

Here is  an extract about food policy councils from our current research.

It is not surprising that we find strong momentum towards establishing sustainable food systems in the nation that has been at the forefront of the proliferation of fast food chains, food processing and long food chains. In 2015, The United States had 215 Food Policy Councils, with a total of 282 in North America.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 11.15.43 AM

Food Policy Councils in North America

This graph (from John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future) reveals dramatic growth in Councils from 2000 to 2015. Growth appears to have plateaued, but based on its proliferation in North America is primed to expand in other locations world-wide.

Seventy eight percent of these councils are either independent grass-roots organisations or NGOs with Twenty one percent embedded in government or government funded organisations (Center for a Livable Future, 2015).

The Center for a Livable Future’s mission is “to promote research and to develop and communicate information about the complex interrelationships among diet, food production, environment, and human health” (Center for a Livable Future, 2016). The top priorities for Food Policy Councils are healthy food access, urban agriculture/food production, education, purchasing and procurements, networking and food hubs. Other interests are anti-hunger, food waste and fitness(Center for a Livable Future, 2015).

Two examples of Food Policy Councils follow – the first metropolitan and the second regional.

The Toronto Food Policy Council (TFPC)

The Toronto Food Policy Council, established in 1991 is one of the oldest. The TFPC “connects diverse people from the food, farming and community sector to develop innovative policies and projects that support a health-focused food system, and provides a forum for action across the food system” (Toronto Food Policy Council, 2016).

Key documents include the Toronto Food Charter and Cultivating Food Connections, Toronto Food Strategy. The TFPC also collaborates with other organisations in Ontario to promote policy and legislation to shape a sustainable food system. Wayne Roberts (2014) uses a flywheel as a metaphor for food policy councils. They institutionalise and foster innovation providing momentum, rather than having new projects have to start unaided and poorly connected to the diversity in the food system.

Puget Sound Regional Food Policy Council (PSRFPC)

The PSRFPC is much younger, established in 2010. Its vision is a “thriving, inclusive and just local and regional food system that enhances the health of: people, diverse communities, economies, and environments”(Puget Sound Regional Food Policy Council, 2011). In addition to policy work, the PSRFPC has worked on farmers market viability.

Local food and climate change

We have to change our narrative around climate change. Our government tells us that we are too small here in New Zealand to make any positive impact on climate change. But we have been leaders in social change. We were the first nation to give women the vote in 1893, we have been world leaders in social policy and were the first in the Western alliance to take significant action against nuclear proliferation. We can lead with climate change do – or at least do our bit to help.

Growing the local food system generates multiple benefits for the community. As we strengthen the system, we anticipate benefits for health and local economies. Into this mix we can create further synergies by including strategies for climate change mitigation.

A recent NZ Herald article by Victoria Ransom and Phillip Mills highlight the benefits of carbon sequestration in trees and soil. If we were to plant 187 million permanent native trees by 2030, we could return to 1990 emission levels. That’s 40 trees for every New Zealander or 6.3 million trees in Northland. And we can anticipate that displacing oil with renewables will enhance these gains.

Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries data reports sequestration rates ranging from 7tonnes of CO2/ha for unimproved pasture to 1238 tonnes of CO2/ha for lowland podocarp broadleaf forest. Mixed manuka/kanuka scrubland ranges between 238 and 554 tonnes of CO2/ha.

plantings benefits

Imagine if we were to accelerate the rate of plantings around waterways, roadways and city streets. We can create food forests in urban areas and food for bees in rural areas. As our waterways become more protected by a mantle of trees, less sediment and nutrient flows into the water and water quality improves. The network of green corridors enhances birdlife and makes our region even more beautiful. And these efforts sequester carbon hopefully protecting us from the worst impacts of climate change.

Kanuka is a great option for planting. It grows much bigger than its cousin manuka, reaching up to 18 metres. While not sequestering as much carbon as denser mixed forest, it  sequesters much more than pasture. The honey has qualities as least as good as manuka.

The impacts of climate change are scary and seem to be intensifying more quickly than most of us anticipated. Its time to shake of our inaction knowing that we have options, and individuals can make a difference.


Kanuka (Kunzea ericoidies) grows to an impressive size and its early summer floral displays are under-rated.

Stevia – sweet as

Stevia (Stevia rebaudia) is a great addition to any Northland garden. Although the plant is of tropical South American origins, it grows well here. It is a perennial that dies back in Winter, but in my garden, regrows every spring. The plants can handle some frost, so most Northland sites are okay. In these situations the website recommends recommends cutting the plants back to 100mm of stem to set them up for next season’s growth.

bee on stevia
Bees love the white flowers that appear in mid-Autumn.

Health benefits

Refined white stevioside, extracted from leaves is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. The leaves contain about 10% stevioside. This level intensifies as the growing season progresses.

Remarkably, stevia not only is free from the downsides of sugar, it can also remediate some of the problems associated with sugar. This page from the Greenmedinfo website references studies that reveal the efficacy of stevia in treating type 1 and 2 diabetes, hypertension and other health issues. One study identifies anti-inflammatory and antitumor properties.

This article, advises that green leaf stevia is the best option. As products become more processed, there is more potential to reduce benefits, or to generate harm. The author ranks stevia as his third preference as a sweetener after raw honey and dates. There are some cautions about side effects from using stevia.

Eating stevia

I use stevia in smoothies and salads. As I forage around the garden for salad ingredients, stevia is a favourite choice. The leaves have a slightly bitter after-taste when consumed alone, but in a salad they provide a sweet burst of flavour that really compliments the bitter flavours from salad greens.
This video explains the harvesting and drying process.

Food for Thought

Rita Shelley

I grew up in the most urban of environments. We didn’t have land. We didn’t grow things. Most of my life I couldn’t understand the pleasure in gardening. Recently, I’ve begun to change. I got there through food. You see, my partner and I love to eat and we are enthusiastic cooks. I guess It finally dawned on me that, for me, gardening is about growing food in our lush Northland soil and climate.
This year I bravely planted seeds (rather than purchased seedlings) for the first time. Some seeds were commercial. Others I got from the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust in Whanganui. I heard their research director, Mark Christensen, on radio and contacted him. They work with heirloom seeds that produce highly nutritious plants. I especially enjoyed Janet Bradbury’s delightful children’s book created for the Research Trust, Jessica and the Golden Orb. It’s about growing golden tomatoes and is available as a free download. The book advised planting borage near your tomatoes to attract bees. They pollinate both the borage and the tomatoes. I found borage at Northland Plants in the Whangarei Grower’s Market and now watch bees buzzing from one borage plant to the next. When the basil seeds in the garden didn’t sprout (I don’t think I gave them enough water) I planted basil intended for eating. The roots were still attached and the basil thrives near the tomatoes.

ritas tomatoes
In addition to tomatoes and a few beans. I am also growing parsley, basil and chives in pots from seed. What surprises me is my intense emotional involvement with these plants. People describe me as reserved. OK, I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.
But it seems I do wear my heart on my garden gloves. Before my seeds sprouted, I checked them many times a day (yes I really do have a life!) When some of the tomato plants got blight after heavy rains I leapt onto the internet to find a natural cure, exactly as I would do if my partner took ill. I’ve done some serious surgery and several rounds of spraying with a baking soda mixture to save them. Perhaps my feelings will level out as I lose my novice status. Right now, it’s a tumultuous ride. My fondest hope is that the tomatoes that are on the healthy vines will ripen into golden orbs. Who’d have guessed back in my youth in the concrete jungle?

Choosing local food

There are restaurants and cafes around Northland that choose to support local producers, but do you know who they are? And if you did know, would you be more likely to choose them to dine with?

There are a surprising number of local restaurants and cafes that are passionate about local food, but they are not communicating their passion to their customers. Perhaps we could initiate an “eat fresh, eat local” certification that local chefs could display to communicate their love for local food. Sean Stanley of the Northland Natural Foods Coop is working on a logo. Conscious Consumer, based in Wellington, has a certification process based on a series of badges including local, recycling, organic, free range etc. But the process is expensive.

To get something going up here, I favour a single qualifier – based on the percentage of food obtained from local producers. Given that there is produce not available in sufficient volumes, such as mushrooms and bananas, what do you think would be a fair threshold to qualify – 80%? When the certification is established perhaps a badge system can be added.

Shiraz restaurants would certainly qualify. Owner Jas Singh can be seen at the Whangarei Growers Markets most Saturdays buying.


He purchases sufficient produce for the whole week and cool stores it back at his restaurant. He knows it will still be in great shape by the end of the week, because it is fresh when he buys it. If he runs short, the growers will top him up during the week.

Judy Wicks, of Philadelphia’s White Dog Café, is a pioneer of local food revival. The food in her café’s comes with a story – she knows the people that produce the veggies, fruit, meat and seafood on the menu. She articulates her vision here? We can do this too. What do you think?