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Re-localising Our Food

Reshaping Northland’s food production, distribution and consumption systems

Introduction

Northland’s food systems are unsustainable. The number of locals growing produce has been decimated over the last three decades as the supermarkets have consolidated their domination of the supply chain. Especially in rural areas, those that don’t grow their own food often have to travel long distances to get reliable access to food. Meanwhile, the population relies increasingly on a diet of over-processed convenience foods that leaves them undernourished with consequent alarming rises in preventable disease. Even if these problems with distribution channels were reversed, the decline in the appetite for healthier foods, and skills for preparing it need also to be reversed. Sadly, this is taking place in a region that has among the most benign growing conditions on the planet, yet we have enabled systems to evolve that neither optimise local economies nor our health.

The vision

To promote and establish community-led sustainable food systems for Northland. Systems that produce, add value, market and distribute locally grown nutritious food that supports the health and well-being of the community and the local economy while looking after the environment.

Why?

To contribute to a connected and cohesive, prosperous Northland by:

  • building local resilience back into the Northland economy
  • stemming the leakage of wealth from the region
  • rebuilding local economies
  • addressing food security and poverty at a community level
  • providing and distributing healthy locally based fresh food at a community level through a range of channels
  • enhancing employment opportunities at a local community level
  • creating stronger supply and processing capability for value-add and export.

Results/Outcomes:

Achieving food sovereignty: the phenomena of an engaged community of citizens determining a food system that satisfies its own interests and concerns through:

  • the support of local growers, and providing them with fair returns for their skill and labour
  • repopulating declining rural communities, producing a new generation of growers to replace retiring growers
  • stemming the flow of imported foods (that we can grow here) into the region,
  • and increases our capacity to export and earn revenue with fresh and value added foods and products.

We envisage a healthier population that has access to food outlets providing healthier options supplemented with culinary and nutritional learning opportunities.

  • Local cafes and restaurants will be proud and vocal champions of local food.
  • New supply chains (co-ops and clusters for example) that create income and prosperity for the community and optimise health and wellbeing by supplying local, fresher, organic food at lower costs will continue to grow.

Methodology

Over the last 18 months a series of workshops, discussions and overseas research trips involving a range of local organisations and individuals have explored options for strengthening Northland’s food systems. Alongside these discussions, several initiatives have arisen as further foundations for change. This document outlines the next stage of this collaboration, including the creation of a formal guiding coalition and governance structure and securing resources to accelerate community and economic growth in this area.

It is our intention to call a meeting to further these aims. As an invited participant please consider the following questions.

  1. How do you see your organisation being involved, supporting and benefitting from the further development of a local food movement?
  2. What other organisations and stakeholders do you see assisting in this development?
  3. Are you able to speak on behalf of your organisation’s support for the further development of a local food movement?

Guiding principles

The collaboration to date has emphasised the following foundation principles for the design of a local resilient food system.

  • We collaborate to achieve sustainable outcomes.
  • We share a common agenda for change including a shared understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed actions.
  • We collect data and measure results consistently across all participants ensuring shared measurement for alignment and accountability.
  • Our communication is open, transparent and honours all perspectives and opinions resulting in:
    • emergence of a collective partnership vision,
    • sense of empowerment and accomplishment among participants,
    • responsiveness to challenges and demonstration of adaption and implementation of new processes and structures, and
    • creates common motivation amongst the diverse players.
  • We establish a social enterprise with appropriate governance and asset locks to best serve a system that aspires to support local needs while operating on enterprise values.
  • We utilise the capabilities of the Internet to support innovation.

Existing initiatives and opportunities

There are a number of initiatives that predated this collaboration or have sprung up alongside it. The examples presented here provide an early picture of what our evolving food systems look like. They provide evidence of a positive move toward a huge opportunity for positive change.

  • The growth of growers markets: Growers and farmers markets are increasing in Northland. The Whangarei Growers Market is a remarkable success story. It has a loyal and growing customer base who resonate with the market’s values. It has provided a number of producers with a valuable customer base and links to wholesale customers. In the last year, the design of this market has been replicated in Kerikeri and Kaitaia with another new market planned in Kaikohe.
  • Northland Natural Food Coop: Sean Stanley has established a peer-to-peer produce market mediated through a website. This innovation reduces the administrative costs and layers aligned with distribution systems. Sean is focussed on organic local suppliers with his initiative providing a catalyst for scaling production.
  • Fresh Food Collective: In late 2014 Laura Cates established a food coop that has reduced the cost of produce for participants. She has 900 customers at present and that number will grow, as will her distribution network.
  • Pehiaweri Marae: Activity around Pehiaweri Marae is increasing exponentially. Part of their developments are community gardens and orchards and educational activities related to food production. Pehiaweri will continue to develop as a social and economic hub and could serve as a model for 100 marae around Te Tai Tokerau.
  • Resilient Economies Conference: In 2014 the Far North District Council hosted the Resilient Economies Conference. Local food systems were a significant part of the proceedings. This signalled a significant shift in Local Government discourse around social and economic development.
  • Akina/FNDC Social enterprise scholarship program: This four month scholarship program (May to August 2015) was designed for individuals and teams to explore new ideas and learn how to create and promote successful social enterprises. Numerous social enterprises are being developed around local food systems.
  • The Sustainable Rural Development (SRD) programme: NorthTec’s SRD (Sustainable Rural Development) programme has established horticultural training at diverse locations. The programme has now evolved to offer training at the enterprise level as well as the basics of vegetable growing.

The above examples illustrate that distribution channels are both innovating and diversifying. But also re-establishing and growing Northland’s production capability is the most pressing short to medium term challenge.

Opportunities

We are thus well positioned to further link up the initiatives highlighted above and to support them and others with infrastructural design for a 21st century food system. The components include:

  • Production systems that support and ensure new growers are educated and trained and have adequate start up resources (e.g. microfinancing, loans, mentoring and apprenticeships) to move into production after graduation.
  • Distribution systems that:
    • support and complement Farmer’s/Grower’s markets (Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Whangarei and Kaikohe (still to be established))
    • supports food-hub, food co-op, and marae based food distribution systems
    • ensures food poverty is ameliorated and ideally eliminated (Food for life, Salvation Army, Soul Food)
    • ensures food waste is recycled and composted
    • ensures food security by reducing dependence on vulnerable road networks and long supply chains
    • serves diverse markets, from those less mobile and impoverished to gourmet foodies,and restaurateurs both here and out of the region.
  • Processing facilities to add value to Northland products and surplus production.
  • Knowledge, research and education systems to connect the diverse components and create synergies around:
    • relationships and partnerships between educational training institutions and local
    • food movement to ensure continuity of new growers replacing older retiring growers
    • cooking and food preparation demonstrations focusing on health, food vitality and nutrition
    • small business mentoring for new start-up businesses focusing on value added product development and promotion, and
    • marketing, and food safety mentoring and training to support new value added product development and further food processing.

The pathway

Our next steps are to consider a governance structure and resourcing needs. The local food movement will be further developed by the incubation of small commercial or social enterprise businesses and community initiatives. These will benefit from a guiding coalition and governance structure to support knowledge and resource requirements.

A governance structure

The local food movement requires a governance structure to:

  • support the ongoing system design, collaboration and growth
  • provide physical and virtual venues for development discourse and connectivity, especially between the diverse interests of, for example, growers and health professionals
  • develop a knowledge base for resource needs including land and capital, research and development and production knowledge
  • generate funding opportunities and enable tax-free donations.

A key task is to identify the best entity to achieve these objectives.

A meeting is proposed for October 2015 to bring together interested parties and potential stakeholders. To register your interest in this please contact us and we will keep you informed.

Jeff Griggs, Peter Bruce, Clive McKegg – September 2015

(this is an abridged version of the full document – for a copy of the full version please contact us)

Go to the Local Food Northland website.