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Producers’ summer growing pains

Local food producers have been struggling to keep their businesses steady over the summer, thanks to the disruption in consumer routines that the holidays bring.

Sales decreased by about 40 per cent over the holiday period for Pirinoa-based grocery business Little Farms,

“People are out of routine, eating out more, on holiday, so they aren’t cooking at home, and therefore they don’t buy as many vegetables,” said Little Farms founder Alex Morrissey.

“We also find that throughout the year we have a dip in orders every school holiday.”

The loss in business has been exacerbated by an increase in harvest yields due to the warmer weather.

“It means we are left we a lot of food wastage over this period,” Morrissey said.

Morrissey noted that the drop in sales was also due to many farmers’ markets and small produce stores closing over this period, which limits farmers’ sales channels.

When this happens, Morrissey said, Little Farms tries to donate what it can – including a decent amount of broccoli and lettuce between Christmas and New Years – but this doesn’t address the cost associated with harvesting the produce.

“Often for farmers, the cost of harvest isn’t financially sensible if the food is going to be given away, so the reality is that some food isn’t harvested, it is mulched back into the soil.”

Morrissey said that the best thing people can do to help during this time was to “try to make a conscious effort to eat some hearty vegetable meals over the summer holiday period”.

In general, she noted that more people are looking to buy directly from growers and farmers, citing the Greytown Crop Up market events as a particular recent success.

Masterton-based Four Corners Organics and Hydroponics grower Jos Paans agreed that the summer months have proven stressful and said that the seasonal crops like zucchinis, cucumbers, tomatoes, and year-round lettuces just multiplied.

“This time of the year is peak growth,” Paans said.

“All summer crops grow like crazy due to the sun and warmth, but the only trouble is that over the summer break, the consumption of vegetables goes down considerably.

“Over the holidays, pizzas are the popular menu choice.”

Another problem is the significant amount of produce that’s usually sold to restaurants and cafes in both Wairarapa and Wellington.

“Wellington tends to fairly empty out over this time and lots of our regular customers also have their well-deserved holiday,” Paans said.

“It’s not so good for selling the increased volumes, and this tends to be reflected in the prices growers receive.”

Paans noted that distribution has also been tricky to navigate, with many freight options unavailable during public holidays.

“That’s part of the joy of living in this nice part of the country, but not so good for business.”

He said Four Corners tries to space out plantings to manage abundance during this time and find other options, like donating to food collection service Waiwaste but can only do so much.

“Sadly, we do have to throw out a bit of produce that gets beyond its best, and so far, we haven’t been able to come up with a workable solution for this.”

Calling growing a “difficult business”, Paans said that returns are “way below where they should be” in general, and have been adversely affected by the increased cost of rates, labour, seed, fertilizer, crate hire, and transport.

“It makes for interesting times and discussions.

“The number of growers is certainly not increasing, and this will influence the availability of produce going forward.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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