Nancy Gregory reflects on her experience at the Local Food Conference

How to summarise such a full on, stimulating two days for you?!!

Firstly, if you haven’t already done so, check out the website lots of great articles, links etc. This is a movement which developed through the energy, enthusiasm and extensive expertise of Jeff Griggs, Peter Bruce-Iri, Clive McKegg and Sean Stanley, a formidable team!

Peter mentioned that the conference was “all about supporting the shift to sustainable food systems characterised by strong integration of health systems and primary production systems”. This was evidenced by the presence of growers and farmers, from organic or spray free to conventional; processors; distributors; educators; health providers; social and community workers and consumers, including cafe and restaurant owners.

Some of the frequently used words and phrases which are part of a shift to a new paradigm around our food are:- collaboration, food hubs, food systems, food policy councils. The idea of a food hub means developing small enterprises around local vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy involving centrally located facilities for the collection, storage, processing, distribution and marketing of locally produced food, which cut out the middle men. I’ll leave you to find out the others, if you don’t already know.

Most, if not all of the presentations are available on the website in Pdf form so this is just a few of the highlights for me.

Rangimarie Price from Te Tai Tokerau Iwi Chief Executives’ Group and Iwi Chairs’ Forum. She explained the make up of these groups and some of their initiatives. A focus was on changing the way Maori do business and view themselves. Talked about the creation of a new pathology for Maori “It is normal to be Maori, healthy, prosperous, educated and connected”. This narrative would be developed along enduring pathways based on tikanga Maori.

Rather than making money and then doing good with it, the idea is to do good and thereby make money. She stressed the inseparable connections between whenua, tangata and oranga, and also suggested that there can be no social and economic revolution for Maori without a simultaneous educational revolution.

Dr Melissa Gilbert-Smith, a Whangarei GP who until recently worked at the Northland Environmental Health Clinic, an integrative health practice. She mentioned how she made her appointments a half hour long to allow her to focus on the patient in their context. She sees the rise in obesity, chronic diseases such as heart, diabetes and cancer correlating with changes in diet and lifestyle, which in turn correlates to changes in food systems. “We’re getting bigger and sicker and the solution is not pharmaceutical, it is returning to what we’re designed for.

She stressed the biochemical health of food and the benefits of organic, more nutrient dense food; local, seasonal food which was more likely to be picked ripe thus having higher mineral, anti-oxidant and polyphenol levels. Also growing one’s own food as well as allowing control of environment, has psycho-spiritual benefits and increases seratonin levels.

As an example she mentioned the important functions of magnesium and the biochemical balance between calcium and magnesium, which should be in a 3:2 ratio but with dairy the ratio became 16:1.

Her fondness for the Slow Food Movement resulted in her anagram:-

S = seasonal, sustainable, sensible, shortening (of the food chain)

L = local, logical

O = organic, obvious

W = whole, “wisdomatic”

Barbara Burlingame, who has recently returned to Massey University as Professor of Public Health Nutrition, after spending 16 years in Rome working for FAO, gave a talk entitled “Sustainable Diets and Traditional Food Systems”.

Barbara mentioned how diets are currently not sustainable with 795 million hungry people in the world, 2 billion suffering from micronutrient malnutrition and 2 billion who are overweight or obese. The environment is not sustainable and agriculture, as currently practised is not sustainable.

She showed the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals and focussed on Goal 2, Zero Hunger, which aimed to end hunger, achieve food security & improved nutrition & promote sustainable agriculture. She discussed what constitutes a sustainable diet and trends which have led us away from this. For example the decline in agro-biodiversity – 9 crops now supply 75% of food energy (wheat, maize, rice, sorghum, millet, potatoes, sweet potatoes and sugar); decline in seed varieties – from 408 tomato varieties to 79; increasing genetic uniformity – Thailand once boasted 16,185 varieties of rice, now 50% of the area cultivated is under 2 varieties; staggering differences in nutrient content – our much eaten in NZ Cavendish banana has >5µg of carotene (Vitamin A) whilst a banana from a traditional indigeneous source contained <8500µg. The two diagrams showing the correlation between Mediterranean and Western Diet Pryamids and their environmental footprint made interesting reading.

Since the conference many attendees have continued talking through Loomio. Two threads which may be relevant up here are the group which is looking at options for small independent slaughter facilities so Northland’s pastoral farmers can have their meat processed and returned to them to market themselves. This is seen as potentially allowing farmers to diversify, and de-intensify by lowering stocking rates, thereby lessening pressure on the environment. This can only be good for us as consumers as well.

It makes sense to develop an organic Northland banana industry, in light of fungal diseases which are hitting overseas banana crops, reducing yields by up to 40% and requiring the input of 50 fungicide applications a year on non-organic properties. (See article on website).

Lastly, I must mention the delicious food we ate at every meal, including morning and afternoon teas. A real affirmation of local growers and suppliers, local processors, local cafes and restaurants and the dedicated ringa wera team who added the aroha to serve us real soul food.

“A quarter of what you eat keeps you alive, three quarters of what you eat keeps your doctor alive.” Ancient Egyptian Proverb

Photo from the Local Food Northland website shows Cheryl Toka (Te Hiku Food Hub, KaiBOX) and Nancy Gregory being greeted at the pōwhiri

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