Wednesday, December 26, 2007

NZ Herald 27 Nov 2000 Farmstay and homegrown food

What is the most value you can add to a kilo of lamb?

How about the pockets-full of dollars brought into New Zealand when the consumer comes to this country in order to share the table of the farmer who grew it.

The concept also applies to New Zealand’s beautiful fresh home-grown vegetables, fish, fruit, beef and venison.

Food is one of the big selling points of the growing ‘Farmstay’ market. To those who have not tasted tender lamb or robust hogget straight from the farm kitchen, it’s worth explaining that it is an entirely different taste sensation to that of supermarket meat. The animal has not been stressed by transport, the meat has been aged in the traditional way, and of course only the best is kept for the household.

Sadly we have got ourselves into a barbed-wire tangle of regulation regarding who can consume home-killed meat or recreational catch. Keep in mind that this applies to whitebait, blue cod, paua and the other recreationally-caught delicacies of the different regions. The Animal Products Act dictates that the farmer, his household and his employees can consume home-killed or caught food and so can a paying guest who has partaken in catching it. Other paying guests cannot however, so at this moment thousands of farmstay hosts are risking fines of five figures, probably without even being conscious of it. If they are conscious of it they think it is too silly to deserve attention.

Why did we get into this complicated mess?

Not for food safety reasons, that’s clear because it’s legal to supply your own family, household, and farm workers with home-prepared meat. Not for export integrity reasons, because the food does not leave the farmhouse. One must conclude that it is for purely bureaucratic reasons, in that the crossing of palms with silver makes a convenient demarcation, on one side of which home-prepared meat can be eaten, on the other side not.

We’ve had this trouble before with serving wine to guests with their meal. Should we be required to hold a liquor licence? How daft. But there are lobby groups against farmstays, notably hotel and motel associations who complain that they should be much more regulated and licensed.

That is unfortunate, because both market and product are completely different from motels and hotels. The main point is that farmstay is a shared, two-way experience. The hosts give of themselves as well as of their table, their homes and environment. Farmstay is a small sideline for an increasing number of farmers, who get a tiny pecuniary reward but a huge boost in enjoyment of life by sharing their environs with visitors. Each home is different, and this is part of the attraction. More regulation means more standardisation and the loss of many of the charms of a farmstay holiday.

Down here in South Catlins there are no hotels, no motels, but a dozen farm families who have smartened the quality of their guest bedrooms, learned about promoting themselves and their area, shared great conversations with overseas visitors and earned thousands of warm fuzzies by hearing others rave about the beauty of the region they call home.

It is a shame to clobber this win-win trade - the value added to that kilo of lamb includes much more than dollars. Let’s not make the visitor experience become bland and tasteless through our national habit of over-regulation.

Article for ‘Rural Delivery’ column, NZ Herald, c/o Philippa Stevenson.
From Christine McKenzie, Fortrose RD5 Invercargill 19 October 2000. Pub 27 11 00.

NZ Herald 7 July 2000 Organics What does it mean?

Organically grown. What on earth does that mean! According to my Chambers dictionary, organic means a) containing carbon; b) pertaining to an organ (in any sense); c) instrumental; d) organised; e) structural as in the etymological structure of a word.

Its meaning nowadays conveys a vague idea that it means ‘food grown without man-made chemicals’.

Scientifically speaking, organics as currently practised under western standards, raises many questions about land sustainability, animal welfare and also about food safety. If your children got nits or worms, you’d treat them, wouldn’t you?

Those questions apart, ‘organic’ as a brand name for New Zealand food exports quite honestly stinks. It’s used willy nilly by all kinds of producers in many countries. How much trust do consumers really have in it? And how much will they trust it in the future as everyone gets on the bandwagon?

As a farmer I don’t have much faith in ‘organics’ at all. Particularly as a brand on our products heading overseas..

Yes the principles are great - that’s what New Zealand has built its good name on - producing with hardly any artificial aids. The thing is, we already have an established brand, and what’s more we own it, which means no-one else can degrade it.

It’s NZ Natural, or Naturally New Zealand, or any phrase that includes NZ. This is our established brand world wide.. Let’s face it Naturally NZ is unequivocal: it means all the images of NZ that have been built up over 120 years of exporting.

It’s no accident that our meat and dairy products are the cleanest anywhere - our customers demanded it over the years. The blood sweat and tears of complying with USDA and EU regulations have paid off in the reputation which we have built up.

Further, the last five years have seen a much closer relationship between customers and individual companies meaning their demands have been built into our systems, such as Alliance Group’s Farm Assurance Programme.. Traceability is the key. Every movement of animals on and off farm is recorded, every farm is audited and expected to record every remedy used such as worm drench. Codes of animal welfare, of fertiliser application, of health and safety are widely applied.

This has been accomplished in a relatively pain free way for farmers but is a huge leap forward for our marketing people, who are now grappling with the extraordinary global buying power of the continually merging supermarket sector. Their demands will continue to evolve but by the price and demand exhibited for our lamb in particular, it seems they are satisfied with the standard of food safety, animal welfare and environmental sustainability expressed in the New Zealand brand.

Those who are enthusiastically embracing the concept of ‘organics’ right now are motivated by the right sentiments but haven’t perhaps appreciated the strength of the the reputation we have, and that the commercial reality of the alternative doesn’t stack least one supermarket megacorp has already announced price-levelling for all organic and non-organic produce.

Put together the commercial realities with the serious scientific questions over such practices as ploughing vs zero-tilling, it makes more sense to continue down the track of following best practice, building our wholesome and uniquely New Zealand reputation, than by attempting to rebrand our products with such a fragile generic name as ‘organic’.

NZ Herald 8 May 2000 Planet Southland

Hello Hello Planet Southland here, calling Planet Auckland.

We need more people. You have lots of people. Could you send us some please?

That is the gist of my message… Here is my sales pitch:-

This May Monday morning the sun is pouring onto a landscape so bright and clear that it makes my eyes hurt. The vivid green of the autumn pastures is only matched by the sapphire of the Ocean. I can see the mountains of Western Southland eighty miles away. The garden is literally vibrant with birdsong.

If I get in the car and go down to the lighthouse at Waipapa, I can join in with the sealions as they loll and socialise in their equivalent of Club Med. If I go up to Curio Bay I can spot a yellow-eyed penguin, or a pod of Hector’s dolphin. I can walk along the coast and see petrified tree trunks, and reefs that were rivers frozen into stone long before Gondwana drifted north.

How’s the sales pitch doing? But isn’t it freezing, you say? I’ve seen snow twice in twenty-two years..It’s certainly cooler than Auckland. Latitude at Slope Point is equivalent to Nantes, a city well south of Paris. You really know you’re alive, out in the sweet fresh air. That’s how it is so clear, and so healthy for people, plants and animals alike. Bad for bugs.

Rainfall? Less than Auckland, actually. That is apart from Fiordland where you can’t live anyway as it’s all National Park. Yes about two thirds of this province is Conservation land, a lot of it classed as World Heritage. Great opportunities to lose and find oneself in the bush. Another selling point?

Landscape and climate -OK - but what about society and economics? Yes you get real people down here - people who look you in the eye and mean it when they say Gidday, How’ve you been? Variety - you get to know all sorts, all ages, all walks of life.

You get to go to meetings too, oh boy do you get to go to meetings. Everything is DIY from ambulance driving to tourism development, and we are so democratic we get ‘consulted’ on everything..hence the need for more people - we are getting meeting-ed out!

Now to the economics. Two sides to making ends meet: expenditure and income.

Expenditure, yes housing is unbelievably cheap and of good quality. The cost of a coffee and sandwich is about a third the Ponsonby price, schooling, transport, rates, tradesmen, entertainment, sports clubs, yes all are far cheaper. Not quite so many choices in entertainment but plenty of everything else.
Travel -hmm - that’s a weak point. It does cost a wee bit to vist the ageing parents or the kids at varsity.

Income - The crunchy bit. Not so many six-figure salaries, but there are a few. We have major meat, dairy, fishing and forestry processing enterprises, an aluminium smelter, an enterprising Polytechnic, and a number of engineering/manufacturing companies.

Farming itself can make a very decent income, so long as the scale and efficiencies are present. Those dairy farmers who have migrated from Waikato and Taranaki in recent years have been pleasantly amazed by the immediate increases in production.

Then there is horticulture which has vast untapped potential. We’ve got things going there with the Crops for Southland movement which is trialling dozens of potential new crops and at the same time doing a detailed soil and temperature map of the province. Just let us get those transport costs down!

Next is tourism a fast-developing industry. And what about tele-commuting?

Do you see why we need you? Climate, landscape, a varied society and the economic opportunities are all there for those with imagination, skills and attitude. Above all, what a great place to raise a family.

And it’s not really another planet, so come on down and see for yourself.

Southland Times Farm Review May 2000 'Bring your spade'

Item for John Cutt: Southland Times Farm Review due 12 May 2000
From Christine McKenzie Fortrose _______________________________________________________

‘Bring your spade, we’re going to rescue Jen’s garden.’

The bulldozers have already ripped up the entire farm. Next week they will finally clear all remnants of a century and a half of family living. The house and sheds have been sold and moved, the mature trees will be pushed over, only the young moveable rhododendrons and the roses can be saved.

This scenario has played out not once but a dozen times in Southern Southland this year.

Family farms are falling like skittles to the big industrial forestry companies as they buy up a huge swathe of country to plant trees for chips and fibreboard.

While Governments no doubt think of the ‘carbon credits’ they will be able to claim in the future,those scattered farmers remaining in the district have been protesting about losing neighbours with the consequent drop in community viability, but there is no law against planting trees on farms. There is no effective law against foreign ownership of land either.

Forestry is not the job-rich industry it once was. The eucalypts already planted on Jen’s farm will not be touched until 2015 when they will be clear-felled.

Meantime there is no-one going up and down the road - the gravel road.

The gravel road has a lot to answer for. These are not ‘marginal’ farms as many people would believe. They grow eucalypts at a record rate, just as they grew beautiful sheep and cattle.

The reason the foresters could buy this land is not because of low productivity, but low saleability, because it’s just too far away from facilities for the modern family. People are nowadays not prepared to live so far from access to sports, entertainment, supermarkets and off farm jobs for partners. The same land near Invercargill, Gore or Winton would change hands far more readily and be priced well out of reach of bargain-hunters.

Our problem began fifty years ago when other areas were sealing their roads, and developing services. Somehow we never got to the point where we had enough population to demand modern amenities. We were too self-sufficient for our own good.

Nowadays with privatised infrastructure it’s more difficult still. For example we have been trying to get Telecom to consider our requests for cellular service but they are not interested. Why would they bother about big poorly populated areas like ours, unless Government forces them to?

Perhaps the ‘urban drift’ applies to many more places than just our little district but it hurts just the same, to see those loved homestead gardens disappear under ripped landscape leaving only ghosts that flicker in the minds of those who still pass by.

CJM 10 May 2000.

Southland Times Supplement 21 May 1999 'Olden days of dairying in Waikawa'

Expansion of dairy farming ignores coastal potential.

In 1899 a pool of 300 cows was enough to open an export cheese factory, now it’s hardly enough to operate a family farm.
Down at Waikawa on the South Coast there is a museum with a display on the dairy industry that once existed in the area. Indeed it was dairy farming that followed the first clearing of the land.
The Otara factory sent its first cheese to Great Britain in 1882, the same year as the first shipment of frozen meat from Dunedin. Then, it ran on 500 gallons of milk per day although that was only a fraction of its capacity. It survived through the years - with ups and downs- until the early 1950s and the wool boom. The old building that still stands on the bank of the Tokanui Stream dates from 1919. In those days of big families and manual milking it was a sociable and busy life - one can imagine the race to be first at the factory with the horse and dray each morning.
Waikawa Valley, Tokanui and Haldane factories opened in the 1890s. When one looks at the fresh paint and proud lettering ‘DAIRY FACTORY’ on the buildings in the old photographs, with the founding farmers lined up in the foreground, one is tempted to reflect on the hopes, energies, ambitions and struggles of times past and how that aspect at least is little changed in the farming world.
So what is the status of dairying in the area now? There are only three dairy farms, all at Otara. There is however a good deal of black and white to be seen especially in winter, as graziers look after other people’s cows on the grassy dunes of the coast where it is dry underfoot all year round.
One can understand, with the emphasis today being on intensive per hectare production, that the Central Southland plain with its deep fertility and flat ground is the target of the dairy land rush.
However it is somewhat of a puzzle that as the plains get more swallowed up and prices rise, that the coastal belt hasn’t been part of the dairy expansion picture, so far. The carrying capacity of the land is easily competitive with the rest of Southland outside the plains, and the extraordinary drought this season has shown its reliability compared with the northern part of the province.
As well, it is just about frost-free and although the winter rains can be bitter, behind a decent shelter belt almost anything can be grown. The proximity of the sandy soils round the coast are a bonus for wintering, and the entire area is only between 35 and 75 km from the Edendale factory.
It’s also been clear of TB for many years and may even consider enhancing its TB-free status by declaring itself a ‘protected area’.
So why has the entire area been so neglected in the Southland dairy expansion? Is it just that people have forgotten its history, or is it that even today, one truly needs a pioneering spirit in order to be happy living on the southernmost coast?

Southland Times 21 May 1999 Extreme Scene

Southland Times 8 June 1998 Three threads are drawing NZ farming towards the future.."

Article for Southland Times for Monday 11 June 98 from Christine McKenzie Fortrose 5RD Invercargill.

"Continuous Improvement must be the aim of farmers in the south"

Three threads are drawing New Zealand farming towards the future, exposed as it is to the enormous forces of world food supply and trade. If you are a farmer who does not see continuous improvement as part of your farming philosophy, read no further.
First is the overseas customers’ requirements for reassurance that the food they eat is safe, tasty, natural and wholesome. They have had a lot of frightening stories (not from New Zealand products, touch wood), over the last year or two.
Second is the ‘community’s’ perceptions of what farming is all about and what is acceptable practice. Its perceptions are translated into law such as the Resource Management Act, the Biosecurity Act, various Codes of Animal Welfare and local authority Plans. The debate is loosely termed ‘The Right to Farm’.
Third is the evolving world of international trade agreements and the threat of nontariff barriers, not to mention cheaper producers, in an era of free trade. There are losses as well as gains for New Zealand in the medium term.
These three threads all mean more accountability on the part of farmers. If we want to stay at the top end of all our markets we need quality assurance all the way back to the farm, and strong statements about animal health , welfare, use of chemicals etc. Many non-farming people both here and in our markets, think that for instance we routinely use antibiotics on our animals just as they do in piggeries in Europe, chicken farms in USA and fish farms in Japan. We need to get more forceful in explaining that we do not use such methods because our systems do not need them.
The ‘Right to Farm’ includes other issues such as looking after the landscape and environment. It’s been a bigger issue for European farmers than for us because of the pressure of population on the open space available. However it is getting to be more of an issue here too. The extreme view, which now looks pretty old-fashioned, stated that a freehold landowner should be able to do exactly as he wishes with his soil, water, plant cover and buildings. The RMA among other things, gives the landowner responsibility to consider the effects he might have on others and on future generations.
There will always be debate about the level of freedom farmers should have to manage their own landscape. The beauty of the RMA is that the debate is brought down to local level so that each region works out its own set of rules according to the prevailing local ethic. What’s required in Waikato is different from what’s required in Wairarapapa, Marlborough, or Southland.
The third thread, the evolution of the rules for world trade in food, also pulls us in the direction of continuous improvement. We have had favourable quotas for lamb, beef and dairy products in various high-paying markets - that will disappear in the future. There are other places where the costs of production are potentially lower than ours. Think of Eastern Europe - Hungary, Poland etc, and South America. We have built historic advantages by keeping clear of diseases like foot-and-mouth, and by developing reliable infrastructures to process, market and ship the products. Those other places may finally get their act together. How do we keep ahead? Again we have to aim for a premium product that will attract a higher price. Once more, that means the customer experience must be safe, reliable, tasty, nutritious, and guilt-free. If it’s associated with a breath of fresh air and beauteous landscape, so much the better.
There is a great future for farming in Southland , proven by the ravages of El Nino to be the most reliable part of New Zealand, but only for farmers who plan to get better results each year than the last, who positively love their farming and relish the chance to demonstrate sound, sustainable management of their land and animals.

Southland Times 13 April 1998 Who was William Cargill?

A Monday article from Christine McKenzie Fortrose for 13 April 1998 Southland Times

InverCargill -- the values of Wm Cargill

Coming from near Inverness, one had heard that Inver means ‘river mouth’.

But who was this chap Cargill? How did he come to have a city named after him? He’s not been a subject of everyday conversation, not even in our current celebrations of 150 years of settlement. I went to a book called ‘And Captain of their Souls’ by Tom Brooking, and found that he was indeed a character to remember, and one who provides links across time and space.

One of the interesting things about Cargill is that he set sail for New Zealand when he was about 63, when most people in those days would be thinking of carpet slippers and pipe.

He had already had two careers, one as an army officer fighting in Spain with the Iron Duke against Napoleon. He’d recovered from horrific wounds at the age of 26, soldiered on for some years, sold his commission and gone on to become a banker.

Not only had he had two careers, but his marvellous wife Mary Ann, like Queen Anne, had 17 children. Unlike Queen Anne, who lost every one in infancy, Mrs Cargill reared 12 of hers to adulthood.

Most men would then have retired satisfied to have their grandchildren climbing on their knees. But Cargill was a restless Scot who had strong ideas about right and wrong, especially about religion. There were many aspects of life in Britain that were unwholesome to him. There was a lot going on in the 1840s.

He really started pursuing the idea of a Scottish settlement for Southern ‘Middle Island’ of NZ in 1842 but it wasn’t till 1847 that the two ships Philip Laing and John Wickliffe set sail with their cargo of settlers. He had built on ideas and worked with many others over those five years but it is fair to say that he was the one with the tenacity to see it through to the end.

His co-leader when they finally set sail was the Reverend Thomas Burns, nephew of the Robert Burns and the poet’s exact opposite in attitude to life. Cargill was a man with strict ideas but he was a liberal compared to Thomas Burns. They were both Free Church which frowned on just about anything that constituted fun or ceremony, even instrumental music. They didn’t even celebrate Christmas or Easter.

Cargill’s title was Superintendent of Dunedin. It became a large Scottish settlement with 7500 people having arrived by 1860. They had an uneasy relationship with the ruling group in Auckland headed by Governor Grey. They also had an uneasy relationship with Southland which was in the throes of breaking away from Otago in 1859, when Cargill visited Invercargill for the first and last time, to try to stop the separation.

The collective memory of Cargill is probably coloured by the age he was when he got to New Zealand. Our city’s name, through him, takes us back further than the 1850s, back to the late 1700s when he was born, then to the Napoleonic wars. Through his name we are taken not only back in time but across the world to Scotland. We are reminded of the kind of people who first settled the south: educated, strictly Christian, hard-working and practical.

Cargill above all wanted to run his own show, and by tenacity and doggedness, he succeeded to a large extent. His dream of a self-sustaining southern Scottish settlement was realised, in that while he couldn’t keep it isolated and separate for very long, he had brought in a core of people who gave the south and its people the character for which they are still known.

What I find after reading Cargill’s story is that settlement would not have happened that way without his dreams and his actions. So we can fairly call him the father of the Scottishness of the south with its egalitarianism and family values, the soft burr of its accents and the practical hands-on attitude of its people.

Invercargill is, after all, well-named.


Southland Times 29 Dec 1997 Tradition vs Innovation

Tradition vs Innovation

It’s marvellous for young Kiwis to set off on their ‘OE’ (overseas experience) to enjoy the sights and sounds of much older cultures. They see the art and architecture with such fresh eyes and marvel at the thousands of years of history in those places. They don’t care about the terrible crowds, the dirty streets, the gridlocked traffic, the unfriendly people because ‘it’s all happening’ for them and they don’t expect to be there for ever.

Underneath the visible aspects of all the things we see both at home and abroad, is that mysterious thing called Culture. That word means different things to different people. For me, it is simply a system of values, a set of priorities about what society thinks is most important. And here is a fruitful never-ending source of argument.

Each person has an individual set of priorities. Somehow they have to fit in with the general direction of the others around them. Along the stream of time there is always a letting-go of the old and a picking up of the new. In that process there is doubt and uncertainty, and argument and therefore some pain.

This is what makes Europe so different from New Zealand, there is so much past history built into the landscape and into people’s minds that there’s little space for the new. They are stuck in 2000 years of civilisation, surrounded by monuments, stratified into social classes, ruled by a million precedents.

There are times, like Princess Diana’s funeral, when the value of tradition is seen. The organisation was like clockwork and everything fell into place, creating an unforgettable spectacle of sight and sound.

There are other good things about tradition and institutions. For instance it can be a source of comfort for people to know where they stand, and systems evolve which keep things clean and functional, harder to corrupt. Another example of the value of institutions is our own civil service where government functions continue even when government itself is struggling through a major change of process.

In a changing world there is always the problem of what to keep and what to change, what to value - what was worthy yesterday, is it still worthy today? You can see it at a personal level, some of us gather enormous amounts of memorabilia as we travel through life, others keep little to remind them of the past. Some have very rigid ideas of how things should be done, others are very laid back about protocol. Some people love the old buildings of Invercargill, others would bulldoze them.

The beauty of New Zealand life is that there are often no precedents, indeed Kiwis are known as innovators , they have had to be - think of the number eight wire legend. Here is the space to build from scratch, to expand on new ideas, to experiment, to fail, to keep changing, and still to value many things from the past. In fact our tradition IS innovation.

So it’s really good to welcome those young Kiwis home when they’ve had their fill of seeing the world. They have to travel to understand how exceedingly lucky they are. The unique ‘Culture’ that is New Zealand will grow and change because of the sights they have seen, and so it will continue to be a vibrant interesting little set of islands.How about making your New Year’s resolution to be more appreciative of differences? It’s sure going to be mine.

Southland Times 16 Feb 1998 "An open letter encouraging a Scottish family to Southland"

Monday article for Southland Times 16 February 1998.

from Christine McKenzie
Fortrose 5RD Invercargill


Dear farming folks

So you have had it up to here with farming in Scotland with all the red tape and bureaucracy. How about moving out to Southland, New Zealand?

There are quite a few farms for sale near us. The land is fertile and healthy, the air is sparkling clear, the neighbours are friendly and most of all you can farm to your heart’s content, instead of getting up in the morning to ‘milk the subsidies’.

Over here you’d soon forget the frustration of filling in all those forms for every acre, every crop and every head of livestock - and there’s no satellite overhead measuring how many acres or animals you’re claiming for, because you’re not claiming for anything.

You’d be made very welcome in New Zealand. The people here mostly have Scottish background so you would feel at home straight away. For sheep farming you need about 2500 ewes nowadays to make a living. It sounds a lot compared to the 800 you are farming but the systems here along with the climate allow you to do it quite well and still have time for the bagpipes. The local pipe band, by the way, is top of Grade Two at present so is worthy of your talent. They have just been touring in Japan, and in August will be in Edinburgh at the Tattoo.

The other thing about sheep farming is that there is definitely progress to be made. It’s not a standstill business. I know that you have farming in your blood and here you’d be living among the top sheep farmers anywhere. Think of the challenge. Of course you’d be like the rest of us, driven by debt. That’s where you have to look at the downside - you might have to sacrifice a bit of that discretionary income the government gives you in Scotland - there are no set-aside payments here!

But that’s what I was saying - this is a place you can make your decisions according to your own piece of dirt and its microclimate and your own inclinations. You’ll be buying your own freehold and it’ll probably take your whole lifetime, but here it’s not called Freehold for nothing.

I daresay you will worry about the thought of leaving your ageing parents , and all the children’s cousins, but look I flew back to UK this year and it only cost $2000 return, that’s 800 pounds sterling. Invercargill to Inverness is only 36 hours or (think of it) you can go by Bali and take a week.

And once you get established here you’ll have a stream of visitors and plenty of space for them all.

You don’t have to worry about the children settling in. This has got to be the best place in the world to give children the freedom they really need. I noticed on my visit to England this year how my brother kept his eye on his children as they played in their garden. Even a locked gate didn’t keep them safe from strange people. Well here they will be able to call the place their own, they can ride horses and bikes till they drop, they can help you two, they can play sport on Saturdays and grow up independent, free, fit and responsible.

So are you tempted? I don’t mean to make it sound like Heaven because it’s not, it’s just a wonderful part of Earth with its own little niggles but overall a great quality of life. Let us know what you think of the idea. Bye for now....


Southland Times 10 Nov 1997 " put oomph into the economy"

Monday article for Southland Times 10 November 1997

I spent the winter of 1989 researching the need for an economic development unit in Southland. At the time there were many grass-roots bodies attempting to put some Oomph into the economy.
There was Project Southland, which ran a competition for a Southland flag; Southland Employment Resource Centre which aimed to be a one-stop shop to facilitate job creation; Southland Promotions which concerned itself mainly with the visitor industry; many local promotions group including Gore who planted lily bulbs and specialist vegetables.
There were a myriad of product groups from cashmere producers to home hosters, from organics to crafts to farm forestry.
There was even a South Island Marketing Co-op which aimed to market anything and everything.
The brand new Southland District Council was advertising for its very first Rural Enterprise Adviser, having been offered financial assistance from government to do so.

All of that activity reflected the various energies and enthusiasms of Southlanders picking themselves up after the deep shocks of Rogernomics.

It was agreed by all at that time that an overall regional identity was desirable, however the trick was going to be how to co-ordinate all that activity without robbing the groups of their energy, initiative and ownership.

Eight years later we are still working on it! The groups themselves have evolved, some into strong professional bodies like Tourism Southland and Crops for Southland, others have quietly folded but all left their mark, for example the Southland flag still flies above some buildings, although a new banner graces the main streets.

Other bodies have come and gone. The Southland Rural Strategy Group began as a result of a Southland Times conference, beavered away for six or so years (backed by Southland District Council, Bank of New Zealand, Federated Farmers and MAF), then amalgamated with the Chamber of Commerce to become Focus Southland. The latter has successfully combined local business energy with research institute expertise and District Council credibility. The result is an impressive list of projects, and ability to source external funds. The only missing ingredient has been Invercargill City Council.

This is why it is ironic that Mr Harrington’s economic summit group wants to create a new body funded by all the councils and is piqued that Focus Southland says, ‘Look, just join ours. We’ve wanted you all along.’ So the result of the October series of meetings, ie a declaration of intent to centralise an economic development office within two years, has been a compromise less than satisfactory on all sides. The best part of the outcome will be an expanded mayoral forum, now to include some business leaders, hopefully to strategise at a regional level. And so we make progress, slowly.

In the meantime the various officers of the SDC and ICC will continue to co-operate at a functional level as before, backed by the resources of their own councils.
The many other special-purpose groups will continue with their work. Just to compare with 1989 here are some of them:
Tourism Southland, funded by all three districts;
Crops for Southland, supported by SDC and to a lesser extent by ICC;
‘Southland Spirit of a Nation’ regional branding strategy, supported by all councils.
Vibrant City, formed to upgrade Invercargill city centre, supported by ICC.
Education Southland bringing foreign students to Polytech and schools; supported by council membership.
Celebration of Southland, preparing for 1998 being the 150th birthday of the province;
SF2000 aiming to boost sheep farming productivity, supported short-term by SDC;
21 local area promotions groups throughout Southland, supported by SDC and Tourism Southland.
This is not all of them by any means but what that list shows is the degree of co-operation already existing between local groups and councils, and between the four councils themselves.
So while there is some grumbling and mumbling between town and country, the truth is more reassuring: underneath it all a lot of solid effective work is being done.
Christine McKenzie
Fortrose 5RD Invercargill

Southland Times 22 Sep 1997 "Southland leads as the world centre for sheep farming"

For Southland Times
Monday article 22 9 97 from Christine McKenzie
Southland - sheep capital of the world.

There’s an ancient French saying ‘let’s get back to our sheep’. It means, ‘Let’s get back to the subject’.

The subject, in any debate about Southland’s economy has surely got to be the sheep.

The big beautiful Southland ewe and her six million companions make this province the world centre of sheep-farming. There is nowhere else in the world that so many miles of pasture are dotted with so many white woolly jumpers.

By month’s end, counting ewes, lambs and hoggets there will be about 15 million mouths busily turning grass into meat, milk and wool which will, within a year, have translated into (in round numbers) $6oo million lovely dollars.

That’s twice as much as dairy, beef, deer, arable and horticulture combined, and it’s about $6000 for every man, woman and child in Southland.

What makes those dollars so lovely is that most of them stay in Southland, at least the first time round.

What’s even better is that there will be another $600 or so million next year and the year after, because we are not gutting the soil to earn it.
Sheep farming is an extraordinarily clean and sustainable way of utilising land. Sheep feet don’t pug the soil like cattle. Clover, not chemicals, provides the source of nitrogen for grass growth. Permanent pastures protect the soil from erosion by wind and rain, and they don’t need fungicides, insecticides or weedicides.

Mind you, it’s not simple to be the best sheep farmers in the world. Given the starting points of excellent soils and climate, there are still many variables to juggle: there is always the weather which makes every season different; feed budgeting, breeds of sheep, new varieties of pasture plants, different fertilisers and trace elements, new research findings, market signals, each has an effect which must be managed against each farmer’s own piece of land, and there is always the drive to do better.

So there can be no resting on the laurels, we have broken through many barriers in the past and are about to break through some new ones. The clear message from the market is now to aim for 15-17.5 kg Y grade lambs, consistent as peas in a pod. Lambing percentage and lamb growth rate are the twin targets for increasing on-farm profit.There are new tools like pregnancy scanning, crossbreeding with recently-introduced genetics, specialist grasses, all to be evaluated against the circumstances of each farm. There is always new research to consider on particular topics, such as endophyte levels and trace element interaction.

Other clear messages from the market include the need for traceability of meat back to the farm, leading to declarations from farmers about their adherence to principles of animal health, welfare and witholding periods. This trend has been hastened by the increase in chilled meat shipments which if we get it wrong even once is potential ‘dynamite’. In fact safety systems need to be as failsafe as those on jumbo jets, and the farm is where they start. In addition, the customer is looking for meat from animals which have led a natural life without artificial food or drugs or undue confinement. This is where we have the advantage over chicken and pork which are reared in vast quantities under very artificial conditions.

Talking as ‘Southland Inc’ it was sensible and logical to have spread our business risk by diversifying into new products from our large land resource. However it is fair to remind ourselves now and again just how much we owe to the sheep and how much pride we can take in doing our ‘core business’ better than anyone else.

Have a growthy spring!

Southland Times August 4 1997 Fortrose is Humming

Southland Times June 16 1997 Travelling the world without leaving your home patch

For Southland Times - June 97

I’ve read lately that 500 million people will take an overseas flight this year. I hope they don’t all come to New Zealand!

Flying is extraordinarily cheap today as long as you stick to well-trodden routes.
For about the average monthly wage you can buy a round-the-world ticket, complete with extras.
I had great plans for travel, I thought that once the children were grown etc I would head off again overlanding as in my younger days.

However for the past two summer seasons we have been globetrotting without leaving home. It is comfortable, inexpensive, exciting and rewarding.

How do we retain the comforts of home and enjoy the wonders of Planet Earth at the same time?

We have visitors, lots of them, from all continents, all ages (mostly young), all backgrounds. We never know who is going to come through the front door, we only know someone is.

Some come as paying guests, some come as ‘farm helpers’ to live as part of the family and take part in everyday farming life.
Some of those come from farms themselves, maybe central Alberta or Denmark or northern Ireland. Others have never been on a farm and have to learn from scratch.

If you said Chiang Mai to me last year I would have thought of opium, jungles and child prostitution. Now I think of a young man called Saran and the life he described as he sat at our kitchen table: except for the servants it sounded pretty familiar. I remember too the meal he cooked which was an adventure for us to eat as well as for him to cook.
I remember him in a tearing hurry to catch up with Colin one morning when he’d slept late - off he went on the pushbike without waiting for breakfast. - ‘So much fun drenching lambs’.

If you said Shikoku to me last year I would have remembered with difficulty that it is one of the four main islands of Japan. It is actually tucked in south of the main island and has still got much of the traditional way of life which is disappearing in the big cities.
Kazumi was the delightful girl who told us about it. She had spent a year at school in Nashville which was where she met the people who years later, sent her to us. She had a deep knowledge of traditional Japan as well as a real understanding of Western people, both of which are missing in some of the young urban Japanese we have met.

Dozens of others have crossed our threshold. Every one has contributed something to opening doors in our minds. Sometimes we have needed patience. Sometimes we have been stuck for something for them to do, sometimes we’ve needed a little time on our own, but always the rewards have far outweighed the effort. The best reward is being reminded how incredibly lucky we are to live in the wide open spaces of Southland with miles of deserted beautiful beaches as our back door playground. Another reward is that we have excuses to spend time on the beach, to sit on the sand beside the sealions at Waipapa, to walk the fabulous coast along to Slope Point, to go to Curio Bay and watch penguins plodding over 180 million year old petrified logs, and dolphins cruising round ecstatic bathers.There is plenty of adventure to be had in Southland, - and you don’t need a passport! All you need is to keep company with a few enthusiastic visitors!

Christine McKenzie
Fortrose 5RD Invercargill

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Southland Times April 1997 'Filtering the FITS'

In Southland Times April 1997

Filtering the FITS

Some time about the turn of the millennium, the road through Catlins where Southland meets Otago on the East coast, will finally be sealed.
All residents in their right mind are looking forward to that day -- or are they?
It will bring us into the modern world, it is a sign of progress. At last we will be able to enjoy coachloads of tourists, which is no more than our wonderful coast deserves.
Once we’re opened up money will just flow, farmland will increase in value, options will multiply, everyone will want to live here.
There are some residents, still in their right mind, who have some fears about the imminent explosion.
What do they have to fear?
How about loss of wildness, loss of all the peace that keeps them here, loss of those rare animals that are the icing on the cake for the coastal landscape: the yellow eyed penguins, the Hooker’s sealions, the Hector’s dolphins, even loss of the petrified forest.
Many more facilities will be required : toilets, waste bins, ambulances, police, shops, accommodation, services.
This coast could turn into a copy of a thousand places world-wide, pretty scenery but tame.
Yet wildness is what millions of people yearn for. Fortunately they can’t all get here, only the keenest. Generally speaking the tourist industry calls them FITS, free independent travellers, and they filter through the gravel road south from Balclutha or north from Invercargill. Everyone else takes the high road, Highway 1, or they don’t come south at all.
The result is that we have a small tourist industry but a very rewarding one, in human terms. The people we meet are self-selected into an exclusive club, not because of wealth but because of their interest in finding things for themselves, in going off the beaten track. They have a sense of adventure, a need to test themselves, a keen sense of interest in natural processes - geology, biology etc., and they love to meet and talk to locals.
How then as residents can we have the best of both worlds, keep the peace and yet make progress?
Of course we want the road sealed, so how do we mitigate the effects of the inevitable flow of people?

The sensible thing to do is to plan ahead, at least for the infrastructural things like toilets, roading and rubbish, and for the protection of the fragile aspects like the wildlife, the forest, the beaches.
Fortunately planning, nowadays, is seen as a community responsibility, not the job of faceless bureaucrats from Wellington.
This is where our local bodies come into their own, they can hear what people say and have the muscle to get things done.
Southland District Council have had good practice in helping areas like Stewart Island, Riverton, Tuatapere to set up ‘Concept Development Plans’, and at last it is our turn, from Waikawa to Fortrose, to have a get-together as a community.
Tomorrow in fact, 29 April at Waikawa, we will have a collective ‘think’ about how we want the area to look in five, ten, twenty years’ time. There will be varying opinions about the priorities but we should come up with a few principles and key issues, and a plan of action. So to the rest of Southland, come and see us as we are now, while we still have a little wildness.....

Christine McKenzie
Fortrose 5RD

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Garden House
Self-contained accommodation on South Island’s most southerly coast
The House

This was the ‘new’ teacher’s house built at historic Fortrose in1938, now a comfortable character guesthouse, set in the privacy of our farm garden. One double, one twin bedroom, and extra beds. Plenty of space. Your own breakfast patio and big lawn. The kitchen is fully-equipped. There are electric blankets and we supply the linen. There are lots of books, toys and games, original art mainly from Scotland, a Yunca woodburner, also trampoline, mountain bike and kayaks.

The Farm -----The Beach

Behind the house, green pastureland rolls down to the Ocean.
You have private access to a long stretch of deserted southern coastline. The beach offers solitude and endless interest in the way of birdlife, rocks and shells. You can build a summer bonfire on the sand and watch the sun go down over Foveaux Strait.
From Fortrose - 5km, Waipapa Point - 11km, Curio Bay - 30km, Invercargill - 50km.

Two people $160 per day, four $200
Longer stays are negotiable. Special rates for families.
Breakfast and evening meal may be available by arrangement.

Colin and Christine McKenzie
476 Fortrose-Otara Road
RD5, Invercargill NZ 9875
Phone 03 246 9526 Text 02102373746

We look forward to meeting you!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Our summer visitors

The month so far has been absolutely brim full of most interesting people, this is the delight of having extra space to accommodate visitors. Today we saw off a Swedish geology professor, friend of a friend and her two offspring, half-Bolivian, multilingual, charming and fun.. yesterday we did the circuit of South Catlins and reckon we saw the works: fossil forest, dolphins dancing, penguin sulking, sealions snoozing, terns a-twittering. Vivi took away a rock sample from Waipapa, to check for palaeo-pollen - yes she is a palynologist.

At Curio Bay we also chatted to Daniel Buckingham home for his sister's wedding. He is playing wheelchair rugby in Alabama and sometimes in Melbourne and they won a gold medal at Athens in 2004. He was with his partner Kimi, an enchantingly gorgeous young Kiwi. Daniel is famous for his determination, his competitive spirit and his dreadlocks!

Colin and Thomas have had a digger this week and have done some fencing on Thomas's leased land. Thomas has cleared away big screening hedges from the front of his house and demolished the old garage, levelling the site ready for new lawn and garage. The view is wonderful, northeast towards Tokanui hills, northwest all the way to snow-capped mountains. He can see what is going on on most of his piece of farmland too. They have painted the house exterior and the whole place is responding to their care by showing a glowing face to the world. It is really warm inside too with the insulation and circulation system they have installed.

I was going to tell about the Chengs, last weekend.. it was Chinese New Year so I was excited to be entertaining a Chinese couple. They are from Hong Kong but have lived many years in Vancouver, and he had studied in Seattle. I was intrigued that they had chosen to return to live in the high-rise business world of Hong Kong, rather than Canada. They told me that it was a simple question of money.. too many taxes in BC, and much more money to be made in HK.

For all that I wasn't convinced it was a desirable life, as their description of the daily routine made me feel sympathetic rather than envious.. I imagine they may have felt sympathetic to our lifestyle too, who knows how the other sees a situation?

But we had such a good time with them and they were paying guests too.. I should have been paying them! They were on the bus 'Catlins Coaster' which dropped them here one lunchtime and picked them up the next. We did the South Catlins circuit rather quickly, wonderful sealion experience at Waipapa, and then Colin took them on the beach in the Chariot. This is a big thrill for anyone, I love it when the weather is right and Colin has the time to do it. They had a look at David's lambs and fed our pet sheep... who have a tickly way of lipping the feed off your palm.

What, you may ask, did we do for Chinese New Year? Red envelopes, dragons and congee? No fear, no century eggs in the cupboard so we had whitebait and roast lamb and spuds. And we raised our glasses to the Year of the Pig, 4704. 1947 was also a Year of the Pig. You needed to know that, didn't you.
More later..