More than six tonnes of fruit and vegetables are reaching 1500 households around the Wellington region every week through co-ops largely run by volunteers.
For $12 customers receive vegetables and fruit that would cost more than $20 in the supermarket.
The volunteer element provides an important social outlet for those who sort the produce into orders.
One of the co-op’s greatest fans in Naenae is a four-year-old boy who had a brain tumour removed last year.
Mother, Kage Hughes, says the weekly trip to the co-op to collect the family’s order is something her son, Tobi, gets excited about.
Last year he had surgery in Christchurch to remove the tumour, followed by radiation and chemotherapy.
Because the treatment affected his taste buds and he associates food with feeling sick he is fed a special supplement through a nasal gastric feeding tube during the night.
During the day Tobi is encouraged to eat, including fruit from the co-op.
Currently, he is tumour-free and on a long-term monitoring programme.
Kage and her family joined the co-op about two years ago and she says it is “awesome.”
Without a car, she can no longer travel to popular markets for fruit and veges.
She says buying from the co-op has been a huge budget saver for them and enabled her to put a piece of fruit in the family’s lunchboxes every day.
It’s allowed us to try different fruits and vegetables that otherwise we would not have eaten because of the price or not knowing what to do with them.”
Sallie Calvert, from Wesley Community Action, co-ordinates regionally with support and is the buyer in conjunction with Regional Public Health.
“We have a few key stakeholders, the growers co-op, and the transport company who support the initiative,” says Sallie.
Produce is bought at wholesale prices from a growers’ co-operative and delivered by ME Transport to the co-ops’ packing sites. There are 10 co-ops around the Wellington region with a new one planned for the Wairarapa in the next few months.
Once packed into orders, volunteers take the bags to distribution centres, usually church halls or community centres, where they are collected by customers. There are 36 distribution centres, including ones for Victoria and Massey University students.
Purchasers order and pay the previous week. There is no requirement to order weekly.
A bit like Christmas
Sallie says that customers don’t know what they will receive so every week is a bit like Christmas .
St David’s Anglican Church hall in Naenae, Lower Hutt, is a packing and distribution centre for the co-op, which promotes itself as “fresh fruit and vegetables at affordable prices.”
Sallie says an Anglican minister, Craig Dixon, started the co-ops around 25 years ago in Christchurch, but it really took off following the Christchurch earthquakes. He shared the model with Wesley Community Action and Regional Public Health who have supported communities to initiate their own local co-ops.
The Naenae co-op began in 2014. After their successful collaboration to form a co-op in Cannons Creek, Porirua, these organisations looked to start a similar one in the Hutt Valley.
As the New World supermarket in Naenae had just closed an approach was made to Jill Kirkland who volunteered her church, St David’s, as the packing and distribution venue.
When the Daily Encourager visited during the recent school holidays volunteers were sorting produce for about 160 orders. Vegetables included in each pack were potatoes, carrots, onions, and a pumpkin and a cucumber per order; the fruits were apples, bananas and feijoas.
Jill, now the Naenae co-ordinator, says customers are likely to eat twice as much as supermarket produce.
Rising Star winner
In 2016, the Naenae co-op won the Rising Star award at the Wellington Airport Regional Community Awards, first for Lower Hutt and then for the entire region.
Jill says the building of friendships, especially among elderly volunteers, is a bonus for the packing sites. For some people, it is the highlight of their week.
Most of her volunteers don’t belong to St David’s. She never knows who is going to turn up on packing day but there are always enough. The oldest are in their eighties.
Some volunteers have told Sallie;
This is why I get out of bed.”
Some customers are older couples who order every second week. Others are households of four or five people who order two lots every week.
Open to anyone
The co-op is open to anyone. Jill says it is most popular with people who like to plan their meals in advance. It also appeals to people who care about the environment.
The Naenae co-op has five distribution centres – St David’s, St Matthew’s Church in Taita, the Pomare Taita Community Trust, St Philip’s Church in Stokes Valley and Discovery Elim Christian Centre in Kelson.
As for the future, Jill says adding more delivery points is something they would welcome.
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For a full list of the co-ops in the Wellington region click here