Demand rising for organic farmers

PRODUCTION LINE: Bailey Peryman and Charli Hately at work in the garden.
PRODUCTION LINE: Bailey Peryman and Charli Hately at work in the garden.

Consumers are increasingly wanting locally-grown fresh produce, but BAILEY PERYMAN asks who is going to grow it and where?

We are hearing a lot of discussion about setting up new produce markets around Christchurch, including a covered one in the central city. These are great visions, but if they are to materialise we need to start thinking about where these markets will source their goods.

People are turning out in droves to weekend farmers' markets to get their hands on the best fresh produce this region can offer.

Serviced by a handful of really creative artisan producers, these markets have been great social anchors in difficult times.

Demand is increasing steadily and Christchurch people are becoming more discerning about food choices. This centres around who is growing the produce, how are they growing it and how local they are.

Organic growers in particular are experiencing growth in demand for their foods, with some producers fielding requests for mid-week farm gate sales on top of steady weekend returns. These same growers tell us about the changing demographics of those coming to buy produce. For instance they're seeing more "blokey types" - who might have previously survived on beer and sausages - coming straight for their stalls with their kids in tow and buying up for the week.

The general attitude is well and truly shifting towards mainstream appreciation of food from healthy, local environments. Organic food (what our ancestors just called "food") is slowly leaving the confines of boutique, middle and upper-class consumption.

This spread is great to see, but it brings issues around quantity of supply.

Garden City 2.0 set up its local food delivery service to complement weekend produce markets; opening doors to this food during the week and supporting further growth in the sector.

Along the way we've learned a lot about the organic growing capacity in Canterbury. It is very limited, so much so that after one year of modest growth, our delivery service and new Fresh Produce Market in Sumner is stretching the limits of what 10 to 12 experienced and skilled growers can produce on a regular basis, year-round.

Rather than simply put prices up, cream off profits and perpetuate the myth that organic produce is expensive to produce, the growers we work with prefer to keep their food affordable and accessible.

New supply is only trickling into the market and finding an affordable lease on local land is almost impossible for budding farmers.

This is exacerbated by land pressures created by our westward shift in population, the dairying boom and a dearth of industry support for organic conversions.

Our philosophy aims at growing local food systems in Greater Christchurch.

We need to boost local supply and distribution of high-quality foods to meet increasing demand, and continue our movement towards a socially just, sustainable and resilient food system. Presently we're expecting so few to produce so much, without really being aware of the nature of farming.

With all the land available around the city, initiatives like Life in Vacant Spaces can enable far more than arts-inspired urban renewal that is attracting so many young people to this city.

We are talking about hundreds of hectares unsuitable for housing, many in areas with traditionally high quality soils; even the 11,000-plus properties deemed as hazardous by Environment Canterbury can be healed naturally to support safe local food production.

Local, regenerative agriculture is critical for steering our city towards food security and providing for our health and well-being. This must be something we do together, so let's grow this conversation.

Bailey Peryman is a founder and co-director of Garden City 2.0, a start-up company established to grow resilience in Christchurch's local food system.

The Press