No more locally grown, fresh vegetables for Wellington?
Being able to pop down to the local roadside market or, more lately, the weekly farmers market for fresh, locally grown vegetables is something that an increasing number of people value.
Wellingtonians returning to the capital often stock up around Levin and look for locally, Horowhenua-grown produce in supermarkets and at weekly farmers markets. For people living in the Horowhenua, a trip to one of the local market gardens is a weekly must.
All this is at threat, however, thanks to the unworkable planning and environment regulations that are contained in Horizons Regional Council’s One Plan, which are putting approximately 60 commercial vegetable growers in and around Levin at risk.
This threat comes at a time of increased awareness of the importance of fresh vegetables to health and wellbeing. There is also increased awareness of the need for an isolated country like New Zealand to be able to feed itself.
In addition, it makes sense to be able to grow fresh vegetables close to our major cities from the points of view of supply surety, and reduced transport costs and associated environmental impacts – to say nothing of freshness. For Wellington, think Levin. For Auckland, think Pukekohe and for Christchurch, think Canterbury.
Because the vegetable industry is land-based, the industry has a robust understanding of its impact on the environment. In lots of cases, the same families have been conscientiously growing vegetables with respect for the environment for decades.
The industry is keen to put its understanding of soil and water to good use, and continually reduce its environmental impact.
The industry does not want to stand still and accepts it has a role to play in New Zealand doing better environmentally. At the same time, customers are becoming far more environmentally conscious. They want to know their food is fresh, has been grown with respect for the environment, and has not had far to travel.
There are ways to grow vegetables while minimising environmental impact. However, technological advances are needed to enable future sustainable growing. Regulators like Horizons need to factor in these advances when they are thinking about changes.
Regulators also need to keep in mind that one size does not fit all when it comes to agricultural and horticultural production in New Zealand. For example, the environmental characteristics of a dairy farm and quite different to those of a vegetable grower.
Current regulatory approaches to and methods of environmental reporting find it hard to account for the crop rotation that is good practice when growing vegetables because it is good for the soil.
The other challenge facing vegetable growers in New Zealand is expansion of our major cities onto productive land that is ideal for vegetables. For example, the spread of Auckland south to the irreplaceable, rich, fresh loam of Pukekohe is already underway. With Transmission Gully and associated roading improvements, could the productive soils around Levin get swallowed up for housing too?
Without Levin, where will Wellington’s not so fresh vegetables come from – overseas? And if so, how much more expensive will they be, will they be grown to the same environmental standards, and what about the environment cost of transport?
Again, decision makers and regulators like Horizons need to take a holistic view of the environment and all the factors that contribute to its overall health. They also need to be more conscious of the needs, wants and health of the communities that they serve.
Mike Chapman, Chief Executive