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.

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