A unique lo­cal grower in­no­va­tion pro­gramme in­tro­duces more va­ri­ety in fruit and veg­eta­bles.

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When it comes to some Kiwi eat­ing habits celebrity chef Na­dia Lim thinks things have got a bit too bor­ing. “Over time the avail­able range of many fruits and veg­eta­bles have be­come very nar­row,” she says. “It’s not great stick­ing to the same bor­ing things.” Which is why Lim, a co-founder of My Food Bag (MFB), thinks the com­pany’s lo­cal grower in­no­va­tion pro­gramme is so ef­fec­tive. In 2019 MFB is set to launch a bunch of new crops as di­verse and unique as white egg­plant, yel­low scalop­pini, trio let­tuces ( three let­tuces on one root sys­tem) and red bok choy - all of which will be added to many of the 300,000 meals it de­liv­ers through­out the coun­try ev­ery week. These lat­est va­ri­eties fol­low pro­duce like golf ball ap­ples, pur­ple and yel­low car­rots and wa­ter­melon radish pre­vi­ously in­tro­duced by MFB. Lim is a fan of this t ype of va­ri­ety: “Wa­ter­melon radishes, for ex­am­ple, are so unique peo­ple can’t get them in su­per­mar­kets. And if there is no mar­ket for them, grow­ers won’t pro­duce them.” Lim says the grower in­no­va­tion pro­gramme aims to change all this. “We look at all the dif­fer­ent pro­duce out there, part­ner with grow­ers, hold their hand and al­low them to ex­per­i­ment with va­ri­eties. “Grow­ing food is one of the most im­por­tant jobs in the world,” she says. “You can un­der­stand it when grow­ers don’t want to take risks, but I be­lieve some­one has got to cham­pion in­no­va­tion. If they are not sup­ported pro­duc­ers will lose con­fi­dence and not try new things.” But Lim is also keen to turn back the clock: “I would like to see a lot more of the old her­itage va­ri­eties of fruit and veg­eta­bles again. A lot of these have been lost – fruit like black­boy peaches are a de­li­cious and nu­tri­tious fruit, but now I never see them. “There are hun­dreds of va­ri­eties of ap­ples too with beau­ti­ful, elab­o­rate names like bal­le­rina waltz and peas­good non­such (named after a Mrs Peas­good who grew it from a pip in Eng­land in the 1870s) while there is a sim­i­lar story with pota­toes.” Lim is wor­ried many of these will be lost for­ever. “Some­thing I’d like to do is step out from be­hind the plate, learn more about how we grow pro­duce and es­tab­lish seed banks. I think it will be im­por­tant to have these in case of a disaster strik­ing mankind.” Un­der the grower in­no­va­tion pro­gramme MFB guar­an­tees it will buy trial crops if they are suc­cess­ful and, in some cases, fund the seeds. “We put for­ward pro­duce con­cepts based in in­ter­na­tional trends,” says Lim. “We then li­aise with our pro­duce sup­plier (Fresh­max) who have a group of around 120 lo­cal grow­ers about the pos­si­bil­ity of grow­ing the crop.” Fresh­max li­aise with the seed com­pa­nies who then li­aise with the Min­istry of Pri­mary In­dus­tries (MPI) to get the seed and trial crop ap­proved be­fore ap­point­ing a grower. Once ap­proved the crop is grown in fields or green­houses after which MFB will trial in in recipes. If the recipe is a suc­cess, MFB will buy a full crop – and be­come the first to take it to mar­ket. MFB’s pur­chas­ing man­ager, Naomi Moses, says 97 per cent of its pro­duce is sourced from New Zealand. The re­main­ing three per cent in­cludes pro­duce like pineap­ples and gin­ger which can­not be grown in the New Zealand cli­mate. All fish used by MFB is sus­tain­ably caught within New Zealand quo­tas, it has of­fered free-range chicken and eggs since its launch in 2013 while all meat used is from New Zealand MFB-sup­plier re­la­tion­ships which ben­e­fit both lo­cal economies and sus­tain­able farm­ing meth­ods. One sup­plier, Taupo Beef, is work­ing to help pre­serve the wa­ter qual­ity of Lake Taupo. A group of about a dozen farms in the Taupo dis­trict have ac­cepted a per­ma­nent cap on live­stock num­bers to help pro­tect the lake‘s wa­ter and are in­de­pen­dently au­dited each year by the Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil. Much of the drive be­hind this con­cept has come from Mike Bar­ton who has been run­ning a 150 hectare farm of his own in the area since 2000. Bar­ton says MFB’s pro­fil­ing of Taupo Beef through their recipes has “given us won­der­ful ex­po­sure and helped in­form con­sumers about the power of their pur­chas­ing choices. They (MFB) have also given us scale that would have been very difficult to achieve oth­er­wise. “We have been sup­ply­ing them for about t wo years and at the start the scope of their needs was scary,” he says. “They are a big player but we have been grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity and have been able to ne­go­ti­ate a model that works for us. “Taupo Beef – and our story around sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion – is now in thou­sands of homes through My Food Bag and is some­thing we would never have achieved alone.” Bar­ton says the idea be­hind the live­stock cap is to re­duce the amount of ni­trate leach­ing into the lake – an is­sue that is a ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem facing wa­ter­ways through­out the coun­try. “I won’t know in my life­time if we’ve got it right ( Bar­ton is 66) be­cause it takes 80 years for ni­trate now in the pas­ture to get into the lake wa­ter,” he says. “Sci­ence tells us we are on the right track, but we’ve al­ways got to be open to new ideas; and we also want to know what hap­pens to the ni­trate dur­ing the 80 years.” On his own farm Bar­ton has also in­tro­duced other sus­tain­able farm­ing prac­tices: He uses no ni­tro­gen as fer­tiliser, has re­planted 30 acres of his prop­erty in for­est, re­cy­cles all plas­tics he uses and has a per­ma­nent re­search lab­o­ra­tory on the farm (run by Land­care Re­search) which looks at ways to im­prove food pro­duc­tion. “This lab has been on our farm for seven years and has a life-span of at least an­other 20 years,” he says. “We host aca­demics, sci­en­tists and pol­icy mak­ers from all over the world keen to see what we are do­ing. “Re­cently we had 36 farm­ers and aca­demics from Ger­many - and 28 stu­dents from Iowa State Uni­ver­sity in the United States.” Other MFB meat sup­pli­ers in­clude Neat Meat (who sup­ply beef and lamb un­der the Har­mony brand) and Te Mana Lamb, a new style of lamb meat which the com­pany says is “higher in healthy in­tra­mus­cu­lar polyun­sat­u­rated fat – ‘good fat’ – and Omega-3 than any other red meat.”

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