Fruit and vege co-ops help Hutt Valley families save money, boost health

Jill Kirkland says the Fruit and Vege Co-Op scheme is proving popular throughout the Hutt Valley.
Blake Crayton-Brown

Jill Kirkland says the Fruit and Vege Co-Op scheme is proving popular throughout the Hutt Valley.

Hundreds of Hutt Valley families have had access to cheap fruit and vegetables this year thanks to a growing produce co-operative.

There are now four Fruit and Vege Co-Ops established across the Valley, in Naenae, Wainuiomata, Waiwhetu and at Orongomai Marae in Upper Hutt.

The Co-Op, a collaboration between Wesley Community Action and Regional Public Health, buys fruit and vegetables wholesale.

It then sells $10 bags of fresh, seasonal produce to anyone interested, provided they order and pay in advance.

The bags, which are distributed to community hubs each Tuesday, typically contain 8kg of fruit and vegetables.

Naenae Co-Op co-ordinator Jill Kirkland said the scheme had been operating out of St David's since February.

At its peak, 235 bags of produce had been ordered from the Naenae operation.

On Tuesday mornings, a truck would drop off in-season fruit and veg to the "packing hubs".

Volunteers would then sort the produce into individual bags to be taken home.

Kirkland said the programme had expanded significantly over the year.

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"There would probably be 550 orders within the Valley at the moment," she said.

Kirkland said the Co-Ops ensured they got the most produce possible by buying seasonally and getting "whatever the best buys of the day are.

"We've had mangoes, strawberries, and the basics - potatoes, kumara, something leafy and broccoli - it has been a bit of a staple."

To keep the cost of the bags at $10, the scheme relied on two key factors - bulk purchasing power and free labour to sort the veges and pack the bags.

"If we didn't have the volunteers we wouldn't be able to do it," Kirkland said.

She said some larger families would buy more than one bag.

Regional Public Health's Emmeline Haymes, a public health officer and registered nutritionist, said the Co-Ops were based on a similar programme in Christchurch.

A pilot programme was launched in East Porirua in 2014 and was deemed to have had a noticeable impact.

"We got a huge increase in the intake of fruit and vegetables," Haymes said.

"Thirty-three per cent [of those who signed up] were eating their five plus a day at the start.

"It was 62 per cent at the end of the trial."

"People say they really appreciated being part of it."

As for how much people saved, Haymes said it would vary depending on the season.

"We did price comparisons in winter, spring and summer.

"To get the $10 worth, it averaged between $26 and $40 across three supermarkets.

"It's so much fresher too because we get it straight from the market."

A new Co-Op is set to open on Pomare in the next couple of months.

 - The Valley's Fruit and Vege Co-Ops will take provide their first bags for 2016 on Tuesday February 9, with payment due by February 3.  A google search finds the relevant web pages.

 - Hutt News

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