Fifteen Kiwi women working at the forefront of their respective primary industries have started a conversation to better connect New Zealand’s urban and rural communities so they can grow ‘together’ in a post-Covid-19 world.
‘Together We Grow NZ’ is a platform to enable Kiwis to better understand and connect with their homegrown food sector – and the importance of an integrated system of both plants and animals that results in a healthy environment, healthy economy and healthy population.
The pan-sector platform also enable growers and organisations across the food and fibre sector to connect directly with consumers, to share stories and knowledge, “so together we grow”.
New Zealand Avocado chief executive officer Jen Scoular is one of the group – part of the Agri-Women’s Development Trust’s Escalator programme last year – who created the project over Zoom chats during lockdown.
The idea sprung from the fact that Covid-19 resulted in an awareness among Kiwis that ‘something’ has to happen for food to get from paddocks and glasshouses to our supermarket shelves.
But understanding what that ‘something’ looks like hasn’t been a consumer consideration for decades, according to the group.
And finding supermarket shelves empty, and ‘Click and Collect grocery’ slots fully subscribed has prompted many urban New Zealanders to consider not that NZ has a sustainable, efficient food chain, but actually that a food chain exists at all.
And so the initiative launched mid-May via online video showcasing what some of the ladies do in their respective ‘day jobs’ – showing their stories as food producers – and their pride in being able to produce fresh food for Kiwis now and into the future.
Jen says lockdown gave many Kiwis a unique chance and rare fluid time to dust off their cookbooks and try new recipes and really take an interest and value in the food they were using.
“Isolation has given us the time to look at where our food comes from, and we’ve realised we love local produce and we’ve had the time to create new dishes to star on the family dinner table.”
‘Together We Grow NZ’ is a platform where food producers can share stories and knowledge, like where people’s food comes from, and how much energy and packing going into producing great food, says Jen.
“And we wanted to share the message that there is a lot going on in orchards and on farms and we’re doing it because we are really proud to be producing food that New Zealanders enjoy.”
During the next five years, it’s estimated more than 100,000 additional workers will be needed across the primary sectors. And with 90 per cent of NZ’s population living in towns and cities, many people will not have grown up amongst Kiwi orchards and farms.
Jen says a spinoff of the platform is it offers opportunity for people to learn that being part of the avocado industry, for example, does not mean you have don gumboots, plant trees and pick fruit for a living.
“At NZ Avocado we definitely want more people looking at horticulture as a career. And the platform shows that really there is a lot going in horticulture and agriculture that’s really no different than any other field, but people tend to say: ‘Oh, I don’t know anything about agriculture’ or ‘that’s not my field’ but in actual fact we, from a capability point-of-view, need just as many marketing, finance and strategy personnel as sectors you tend to associate city living with, like technology or banking.
“And in a post-Covid world you can sit at a computer desk or log into technology from just about anywhere and work remotely in nearly any industry.”
The platform, which exists across Facebook and Instagram, also discusses the future of the industry in a ‘post-Covid’ world.
“We already produce enough food to feed 40 million people, but I think there is an opportunity for our primary sectors to develop even further,” says group member Susan Goodfellow.
“We should be looking at a wider range of plants, including grains and pulses that we can grow sustainably and develop nutritious food products for New Zealand and global consumers.”
Jen says this is a really important message. “Rather than shipping a commodity product offshore, for someone else to add value to it, we actually want NZ to think about innovating our primary products before they leave NZ, so the NZ producer gets more for their product.
“We know we’ve got this is amazing opportunity for NZ to be to be proud of what we’re producing here – and the post-Covid world is only going to make this opportunity bigger.
“We know people are interested and want to know what this means. And the main goal of this initiative is to get people thinking. We’re trying to push this conversation so everyone can be involved in designing a path forward.”
Visit @togetherwegrownz on Facebook and Instagram. Or see the video at: https://vimeo.com/414363644/cc9f276f73