Gordonton venture pushes local produce

FRESH IDEA: Gemma McGarry, left,  and Tanya Clancy run The Farm Shop in Gordonton, which only stocks goods from local growers and producers.
FRESH IDEA: Gemma McGarry, left, and Tanya Clancy run The Farm Shop in Gordonton, which only stocks goods from local growers and producers.

Good, fresh, honest, local food. It's a mouthful of a slogan, but it's the selling point for new five-days-a-week Gordonton business The Farm Shop.

Farmer's markets and buying locally are the height of popularity in the Waikato but waiting a week, or even a month, for your favourite local markets to roll around again can be frustrating.

The Farm Shop sidesteps that conventional market model to allow growers and manufacturers to sell directly to the general public on a daily basis.

Open Wednesday through Sunday, the new venture gives buyers who can't get to weekend markets access to the same products on the circuits.

Taupiri couple Tanya Clancy and Kevin Clarke, and Gordonton couple Gemma McGarry and Colin Oliver, have invested $20,000 into the shop set-up, building the five-days-a-week platform from scratch.

The shop is Clancy's brainchild.

She and Clarke had been working the markets for about three years, selling eggs and chutneys. It can be tough going, she says.

Constant travel and unpredictable weather wore them down, and they found other market regulars were in the same boat.

"You bang your head against the brick wall going from market to market, paying anything extraordinary - up to $30 or $40 - to get a market stall, not knowing what you are going to sell and if you are going to sell it," Clancy says.

"There's a lot of us out there and really, at the end of the day, you don't know about us unless you go to farmers markets . . . And some of us can't afford to go."

The remedy, Clancy thought, was to set up a farmers market five days a week, under cover.

She had seen the concept in England years ago, and the couple thought it was worth trying it out here.

After humming and hawing over the idea for months, they came across a vacant space in the Gordonton Village in January.

Problem was, it was a wreck. No walls, no doors, no stairs to the space where a door should go - it was an empty cavern.

But Clancy says she'd seen the space in a dream. Wacky, she acknowledges, but she took it as a cosmic sign. They told the landlord they would take it.

Next they convinced McGarry and Oliver to come along for the ride. Friends from the market circuit, the couple (who make jams) could see potential in the idea.

They have been buying locally for four years and knew the Gordonton community would support the store.

The site was was fixed up, fitted out and opened officially in May. It's the first shop of its kind in New Zealand, the couples believe. Split up into rentable spaces, it runs in a similar fashion to a farmers market.

Small, local growers and producers come in, rent a space - maybe for a week if they've got excess produce, or a month with shelf stable products - set their own prices and get 100 per cent of the profits.

It's not a retail shop, Clancy and McGarry stress, and the growers and producers are partners, not suppliers.

"We not purchasing the product, we're not owning it and putting a mark-up on it," Clancy says.

Everything is local. Garlic comes from the road behind, the pumpkins come from two doors up, fruit is dropped off on the doorstep by more locals and the daffodils are cut a kilometre away and delivered.

Don't expect to buy bananas. Don't expect mangos or pineapples. If it's not going to grow in the greater Waikato, it's not going to be in the store.

Supplies are organic where possible, but because the partners are generally small growers, the cost to be certified is too hefty.

There are things on offer other than fruit and veg too. You can pick up rip-your-head-off-it's-so-hot hot sauce from Raglan, honey from Horsham Downs and crafts from around the place.

There are 44 partners on board. So far it's been a sustainable business model, if not profitable.

And they are keen to take on new partners. Only 50 per cent of the space is currently rented so there's plenty of room to grow.

"I think the benefit is that it is so reasonable for them. They don't have to give their time. They don't have to be here," McGarry says.

As well, a new revenue stream has the business driving goods into Hamilton on Fridays, boosting the shop's profile.

Anyone, anywhere within the confines of the city can sign up to get fresh, local produce delivered to their door between 12.30pm and 2.30pm

The Farm Shop is not the answer for everyone, they say. Partners have come on board, given selling in the shop a go, and it hasn't worked out.

So the owners thank them and they move on.

"But that's the beauty about it," Clancy says. "You can walk away at any time."

Customers from as far afield as Auckland and Napier have made their way to the Waikato community to buy the produce.

The women say they are keen to help set up similar operations around the country, supplied by local growers and manufacturers.

They are willing to share what they've learnt so far, as well as their custom-built software to cater for daily turnover being broken down for each partner.