A few weeks ago I needed some Kiwifruit for a function that I was catering, unfortunately the only ones available in the Bay of Plenty were imported from Italy, a truly insane situation in the home of Kiwifruit. As I drove away from the veggie store, seething, I was listening to a podcast from the BBC food program all about the amazing work of the Incredible Edible project in Todmorden, and all I can say is I had an epiphany, we live in the Bay of Plenty, a place so fertile that almost anything will grow and yet our stores are filled with imported food.

So the time has come to try to change things in our piece of paradise and reclaim New Zealand’s clean and green image. I will try to use this blog as a diary of the project, partly to keep a record and partly to keep myself on track. The idea is to make a very public attempt at turning Tauranga green, naive I know, but the global population is only going up and the time for discussion is over, it is surely better to start trying to make a difference.

With the right backing this project has the opportunity to touch peoples lives through the innocuous subject of food.

For this to work we need to be taken as mainstream by the majority that still struggle to care, while encouraging and using the skills of the minority that already do. A fine balancing act, but one that I believe we can accomplish if we can access the exceptional talent that lives here. To get this off the ground we need the Bay’s heavy hitters, both business and politics, to throw their weight behind the plan. There are so many doors that we need to open and for that the right governance team is essential. The act of sharing at a community level has been tried before but only at a very local level. This is a citywide plan and is not in conflict with those that are already involved, indeed if we pull it off it should support, encourage and hopefully expand existing local enterprises.

It is no longer prudent to wait and see who will step up and tell us what to do and post Rena the Bay is the perfect place to showcase this call to action. Council and government seem to be in a waiting game for global guidance and the business community is waiting for governance and legislation. As for the community they either don’t know what is going on or don’t know where to start. Through the act of sharing and the physical, edible greening of our city, we have the opportunity to create a community call to arms that is timely and necessary. This type of movement is fast gaining ground around the world and if New Zealand is to retain its clean green image we need to get started, even the last bastions of capitalism at Harvard Business School have joined the fray with their MBA students being lectured in the need for corporate involvement in environmental issues, not through any ethical conscience but because it makes sound business sense.

Tauranga Tastes Better

The idea is to create a community driven local food campaign, encompassing the whole of Tauranga, where community spaces are utilized for food production. Not as a profit centre but as an act of sharing in all the bounty the Bay of Plenty has to offer. Imagine areas spread throughout the city where you can help yourself to food that is truly local.

The ethos is not about me me me. It is about us us us, through the shared medium of food and towards a sustainable, survivable future.

We need strong communities to weather the tough times that we believe are coming. We need to re invent the collective skills of community. People that can rise to the challenges of the future without waiting for “the powers that be” to do the thinking and acting for us. Initiative taking, leading by doing, generosity and sharing, these are keystones.

You will find us sharing land, looking for new ways to be giving and receiving.

There is some pain in learning to share, but a lot more to gain. This is as much a campaign about behavior change, a cultural shift, as it is about growing leeks.

So yes we worry about peak oil, and global warming but we dream of a future where we might have to work harder and live on less but have fuller lives and fuller hearts

So what is Tauranga Tastes Better

There’s no clever pitch for Tauranga Tastes Better. Just as with the idea of sustainability – it’s a new way of living and of looking at life. Here are some of the cornerstones of the big dream.

1. Plant propaganda gardens with fruit, vegetables and herbs all around the city. This is the big start point for the whole project, the idea being that we turn the city green with growing food that is available for anyone to help themselves to. The big challenge here is to get buy in from 3 groups that don’t have a history of working together, community council and business. We need an army of volunteers from the community to physically build, plant and tend the gardens. Council to smooth the legislation, help with land acquisition and management and assist with funding. Finally the businesses of the Bay to step up with funding, product and skills.

The idea behind the gardens is exactly propaganda as it would be impossible to feed the city unless we had access to approximately 500,000 acres of growing land. What we can do is show that local food tastes better, is better for your health and the environment and is easy to achieve. With a big enough groundswell of community support we can show the health and economic benefits of buying and producing locally.

2. Local food campaign. With imported food costs ever growing the opportunity exists to ignite the Tauranga community with a passion for local. For the people of Tauranga it isn’t just words but a tangible tasty reality. With the public profile of the propaganda gardens and the encouragement to plant, grow and share only able to produce so much the groundswell moves to supporting local producers in their local markets.

Moving forward the campaign must challenge all land owners and developers to stop planting spiky “designer” trees and plant edible plants to share with the community. If we can pull this off then a future walk through the streets of Tauranga will be a treat to the senses filled with edible delights that are shared throughout the community

A lot is talked about investing in a better future for us all and the past couple of years have thrown up some no-brainers that would bring people closer to an understanding of the importance of good food from a good environment at no additional cost,

Just a different way of thinking

1) Build schools for the future that have the living edible world at their heart.

2) Transform health buildings with edible plants and trees as an integral part of the design and workplace.

3) All public bodies to release land for food growing.

4) Plan for food – Support local food production through the planning system with all local plans identifying places for growing.

5) Tick all the boxes – Make growing a performance I indicator for ‘wellbeing’ for all Public Services.

6) Insist all new developments and homes to have ready-to-grow spaces.

7) All social landlords to allocate space for growing.

8) Charter for truly local markets – support local food producers and farmers and campaign for the reallocation of subsidies.

9) Make sure public bodies like schools and health authorities have as a priority to procure local food.

10) Invest in food skills for the future and actively encourage local food start up businesses. We need incredible degrees and diplomas, cooks and technologists, farmers and fabulous food producers.

3. Education, from the very start we have the ability to educate the community in growing, harvesting, cooking and enjoying all the benefits of local food. This would initially spring from the act of sharing food and therefore sharing knowledge at a community level. However in the long term there is the opportunity to work with the schools, colleges and university as well as the DHB and healthcare sector to provide real education and qualification in land management and food production backed by a passion for the Bay of Plenty and the bounties that we can produce. This is just scratching the surface of what is possible in making the Bay a true national icon.

The “sciencification” of our food has led us down a path that has seen the big four killers in our community grow to unprecedented proportions. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity are now generally termed epidemics and yet all are routed in our diet, by this I mean that what we eat is a significant contributing factor to the onset of all four and changing our dietary lifestyles could delay or remove the opportunity that these deadly diseases need to proliferate.

To look simply at type 2 diabetes, which used to be called late onset diabetes because of its association with lifestyle, a change in diet could delay or prevent the onset and quite simply save our health departments approximately $500,000 per patient. Through education at a community level the aim is to prove the benefits of dietary and society change.

4. Branding. This is where we get all corporate and look at how we brand the idea going forward. Initially we provide an umbrella under which all the local food producers can guarantee their local credentials to their customer. Through the local food campaign we can encourage and cajole local retail outlets, supermarkets and the hospitality industry to use the branding as a way of identifying the local content of their products, thereby satisfying the new and growing appetite for local. The obvious benefits of this are lower food miles to our region, fresher and healthier food and a vibrant local food industry. Finally, once we prove the viability of the project we can role out the brand to other communities after all Te Puke Tastes Better or Waihi Tastes better can only improve the health and community while driving the local economy.

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