Would you be happy to pay $6 or $7 for a head of lettuce or broccoli in your weekly shop? It may sound extreme, but unless you grow your own, it could be the only choice in future as a result of Auckland’s rising population and housing demands.
Pukekohe is one of Auckland’s biggest growing hubs and ‘food bowl’ so called because it’s one of the only areas that grow produce all year round. Its estimated that around 4,359 Hectares around Pukekohe contains some of New Zealand’s most productive and fertile soils, due to a largely frost free climate and transport proximity to the rest of Auckland. Not only that, Pukekohe contributes around 3.8 per cent of the country’s land under fruit and vegetable production- 26 per cent of that is the country’s value for production of vegetables. So it’s safe to say that Pukekohe’s food security is at risk as the reality of the urban sprawl continues to encroach onto these productive lands.
Losing precious Pukekohe growing land not only risks pushing horticulture away from major markets, it directly affects New Zealand’s economy resulting in those price hikes due to imports costs and employment job losses if Pukekohe’s growing grounds aren’t managed.
Bharat Jivan of Jivan Produce knows a thing or two about growing vegetables. He is a third generation grower and farmer of what used to be his father’s company, started in 1962. Jivan Produce are widely recognised across the country for their production of onions, potatoes, lettuces, broccoli and pumpkin in Pukekohe.
As growers on a rural boundary edge, Jivan says Pukekohe has changed with a lot more people moving here from out of town and it is a concern to see housing moving closer to their operation which contributes reverse sensitivity issues in the form of noise complaints from residents over fertilizer applications and running irrigators during summer evenings. He understands not everyone who moves here appreciates farming activities, but they work hard to supply supermarkets seven days a week and is part of the vital role they play in feeding Pukekohe and beyond.
What is more concerning is protection of the land, although The Ministry of Environment reports it has started to identify the need to protect these soils for food production but Bharat says there also needs to be recognition on the right to farm included in the report, particularly for growers who have had restrictions put upon them due to new housing developments nearby.
Bharat says it is a concern and feels if the government protected these areas and was recognised on a national level, then they wouldn’t need to continually lobby regional councils every time there is a plan change, expending unnecessary energy and time away from productions.
“Another aspect of it, is it would try to stem the value of land, as a lot of people are buying land on the fringes with the understanding that it will eventually be earmarked for urban development and that in turn puts it out of reach to purchase as growers are then having to compete with developers or speculators.” says Bharat.
Already it seem the Government is starting to listen and the wheels are already in motion in part thanks to Attorney General and Minister for Economic Development, Environment and Trade and Export Growth who helped direct the Ministry of Environment to look into a National Policy of statement to protect elite soils for food production, however, moving forward Bharat would like to see some sort of policy that directs the local council body to identify those area and include discussions with local growers.
“In the Pukekohe district, we’re not against houses being built in certain areas, but development should take place really in areas where crops aren’t grown, the government and to some extent, councils now have a responsibility to ensure our food security as its in the interest of all consumers, for there to be plentiful land for us to grow at affordable prices.” says Bharat.
He says when prices of vegetables do go up, due to adverse weather its often reported in the news which is another part of how important affordable food is to people, especially with obesity concerns in New Zealand and more people wanting to eat more plant based foods, affordability is key.
Unlike other parts of the world, the Horticulture industry in New Zealand is tiny and the only suitable land for growing vegetables is less than 5% of our land’s mass as its mostly pastural based. However in terms of productivity, New Zealand punches above its weight as it’s an added factor of cost to bring exported food which is why its so important to look after our food producing areas in Pukekohe.
Bharat says with a relatively frost free climate, Aucklanders are lucky because where else could you be cutting lettuces in the morning, for them to be on the shelves in the supermarkets by the afternoons or at least by the next morning.
“You don’t get that in all countries!” says Bharat.