Episode 23: Growing Strong
Whangarei Growers' Market in action. Photo by Jerome Cvitanovich.
On the next episode, screening 17 July at 7 p.m. on TV ONE:
When supermarket price-setting was threatening the livelihood of Northland growers, they fought back by cutting out the middle man and selling their produce direct to consumers.
Today the Whangarei Growers Market is a thriving venture providing a living for around 30 local producers. Many more seasonal suppliers jostle for space throughout the year.
The market was started 12 years ago by Robert Bradley and Murray Burns in what has been likened to a David and Goliath struggle.
Robert Bradley says the supermarket chains were using their buying power to dictate prices, with low returns driving small to medium sized growers out of business.
Tomato grower and market co-founder Murray Burns was one of those whose margins were being whittled away.
"The only way to deal with that was to get much bigger or close down - and we wanted to do neither," says Murray.
The pair were inspired by the concept of village markets in Europe and the United Kingdom, and a resurgence of farmers' markets in the United States.
They found other growers who shared their predicament and a group of 12 held the first market in a car-park in Whangarei in 1998.
It now takes place every Saturday morning and, when Country Calendar visited, everything from fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, milk and cheese to macadamia nuts and olive oil was on sale. The market has a rule that all produce must originate in Northland.
The local-only principle has kept struggling growers afloat and encouraged new businesses that may not otherwise have been viable. Asparagus, for example, is now grown in Northland for the first time in many years.
The market is also a venue for growers and consumers to meet face-to-face - there is a requirement that growers are also the stallholders.
At the peak of the growing season, the market attracts up to 6000 shoppers over the four hours it is open. Around 50 pallets, or 2000 cases, of produce is sold each Saturday.
Robert Bradley says the key to success has been offering significant qualities of high quality local produce at moderate prices.
Many similar markets have sprung up around the country in the last decade but the Whangarei enterprise deliberately distances itself from the popular farmers' market movement.
Robert believes some of the newer markets have got sidetracked into "food fashion".
"For us it is a matter of 'keep it simple stupid' - and it has