August 5, 2008

Feeding the Region From Our Doorstep

Golden Bay organic grower Debbie Campbell is passionate about people growing food locally.

Once a jetsetting businesswoman, she now sees a fossil fuel crisis as an impetus for local production.

It's four years since she did "a crazy thing" and threw in her well-paid job as a business analyst in Canada and, burnt out, headed back to New Zealand.

She put her energy into converting a Nelson house into a bed-and- breakfast but still felt something was missing.

Now she has found her passion in an organic farm near Takaka.

"I am passionate about people growing food locally and sharing it locally," she said.

She bought Bay Subtropicals three years ago, taking on the certified organic orchard with more than 4000 trees and hydroponics with a capacity for 16,000 plants.

Getting in rhythm with the land has been a challenge she is still meeting with the help of her mentor, consultant Sol Morgan.

"We have struggled, it's certainly not been easy. It's been a passionate struggle, not a hardship struggle," she said.

The 7ha property mainly produces avocados and mandarins, as well as hydroponic lettuce, herbs and sprouts that she sells to supermarkets in Takaka, Motueka and Nelson, sending the surplus to Christchurch.

The property also grows, limes, tamarillos, oranges, loquats and asparagus, and this year she will convert half the hydroponics area to tomatoes, capsicums and cucumbers to meet demand.

She is active in Golden Bay's slow-food movement, Feed the Bay, which is working to increase the food grown in the district.

It sprouted last October from a forum of 300 people that focused on bringing the bay together as a community. "We have a challenge because so much land is in dairy," she said.

The idea is to help residents grow food but also make use of surplus produce by selling it or preserving it.

"Here in the bay there is a lot of food that falls on the ground," she said.

They are in the process of buying a commercial chiller, working with growers and will put up a website.

"It's really trying to hopefully inspire people to convert back to growing produce and ideally without herbicide, pesticide or nitrogen-based fertiliser, which kills micro-organisms."

She believes change is happening. "The one thing about this fossil fuel crisis is it's making us look at what we do where we didn't in the past."

One of the issues the group is concerned about is the impact of freight costs on food prices.

"Supermarkets price most of their products nationally. What happens when they stop doing that, what is it going to do in this community where wages are not big?

"We say let's be proactive rather than reactive and do something now before it happens. "We have beautiful soils, weather we can grow all year around in - and yet we buy food in."

The food group is working on a structure so its growers don't all put in the same crops.

"We are working together, that way everybody becomes a local food hero," she said.

"Buying local is being a local food hero - and all the food tastes so good."

rRD's Local Food Heroes: Nominate a local food producer who is passionate about providing quality food. Contact rural reporter Laura Basham, (03) 546 2877, or [email protected]


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