A Land Of Plenty

As a bit of a foodie, I always like to use fresh produce whenever I can and try to buy good products, while still aiming for value for money. Unfortunately, Australia is now said to be one of the most expensive places in the world for food products, which doesn’t surprise me at all. One reason for that I believe is due to our supermarkets, especially the big two, Coles and Woolworths, with their virtual duopoly, who have managed to create a shopping environment where you can be guaranteed of generally the worst and most expensive fresh produce imaginable. Sometimes I swear that their vegetables come from the last decade, freshly dug up from the Antarctic, considering how quickly they spoil within days of purchase.

Weird creatures emerge within days, from 'fresh' supermarket potatoes

Weird creatures emerge within days, from ‘fresh’ supermarket potatoes

As I also take part in the regular grocery expedition, I’m fully abreast of all the prices between the various supermarkets etc that we frequent. The price differences can be staggering, especially compared to say a local vegetable market in the area (similar to the vegetable sections of Victoria Market or Footscray Market in Melbourne) where the prices can be a quarter of that charged by the big two (IGA and Aldi don’t have reason to crow either). The same applies to meat products, where once the lowest cuts of meat were literally given away, they are now on the gourmet register and priced accordingly. I remember our butcher some 30 years ago used to give away lamb shanks, for our dog, when we bought our weekly meat supplies. Now lamb shanks can cost more than a porterhouse steak; I blame this squarely on the cooking shows.

Cooking Shows - guilty as charged - (source: www.news.com.au)

Cooking Shows – guilty as charged – (source: www.news.com.au)

The cooking shows started a trend whereby average products have been elevated to gourmet status and, in turn, supermarkets et al have taken full advantage of this and raised the prices of traditionally low priced foods to another level (maybe sponsoring these shows is part of their cunning plan). But it’s not just the supermarkets that are taking advantage, the so-called Farmer’s Markets have also become an industry of their own. Farmer’s markets have, over the last decade, gained huge publicity from travel shows like Coxy’s Big Break and Postcards (Victorian based), where the hosts unashamedly effuse over the so-called home grown and cheap produce found therein. However, I have never been to one of these farmer’s markets where any produce is cheaper, or significantly better for that matter, than the supermarket products and I sometimes have to question the ‘home grown or home made’ status of some of the products on sale. Farmer’s markets may sound romantic, but more often than not, they can be more show than substance.

Everyone loves a parade - Werribee Victoria

Everyone loves a parade – Werribee Victoria

Then we have all the health advocates and numerous government departments carrying on about obesity, poor diet etc and campaigning against sugar, fat, meat and just about anything and everything but lentils and water, yet never have I heard either side campaign about the quality and cost of fresh produce. It’s little wonder that many people defer to pre-made meals, fast food etc, when fresh produce is so expensive, doesn’t last very long and is often of poor quality to start with. And, as if this latest offer from Coles (how coincidental as I write this) is likely to make things any more convenient for people; order before 11:00am and you can drive to the supermarket and pick up your purchases for free that day (I can do that already). I also wonder how well the produce is selected, and where it sits all day before you go to collect? And doesn’t the photo remind you of those fast food ads, where the product you actually get is nothing like the product in the photo.

Coles Shopping - how convenient - (source: mailbox)

Coles Shopping – how convenient – (source: mailbox)

If fresh produce is no better or cheaper than all the pre-made stuff, no campaign on earth will convince people to buy products that offer no advantages other than what health advocates keep trying to ram down people’s throats. There needs to be an incentive to use fresh produce, especially when preparing meals can become a chore when everyone is working; no matter how easy some of the TV shows make cooking appear. That incentive has to be cost, quality and freshness (longevity). I’m more fortunate than many as; firstly, I love cooking; secondly, I have the time to shop, prepare and cook meals at a reasonable hour and; thirdly, I’ve learned to prepare meals fairly quickly using some simple techniques and ingredients. But it still annoys me immensely that quality produce is so hard to find, and expensive, in a country that is a land of plenty.

Gippsland, a land of plenty, but where does it all go? (memories of Kodachrome)

Gippsland, a land of plenty, but where does it all go? (memories of Kodachrome)

Finally, we have had the luxury of occasionally getting fresh produce (picked that day or sourced from the wholesale fruit and vegetable market that morning), which never sees the light of day in a supermarket (at least not when it’s been picked) and the difference is chalk and cheese. Imagine potatoes that can stay fresh for a month in a bag in the laundry or other vegetables that stay fresh for weeks in the fridge (and taste absolutely beautiful) . It’s not something that you’ll ever experience with supermarket produce today. Why not?

Update 1: I find the following really sad and indicative of today’s society: Right to Farm:

‘A CAMPAIGN by Echuca residents to kick a farmer off his land will have statewide ramifications.

Experts say dairying and horticulture farmers may also fall foul of Victorian planning laws in a huge test for right-to-farm supporters.

Town planner Troy Spencer said the Echuca case could have immediate consequences for the state’s 4284 dairy farmers who would also need planning permits if they were found to be “intensive” operations.

The administrators of the “Stop the stink” Facebook page against the Watsons had “no comment” to make to ­The Weekly Times.’

Update 2: Yet another example of farmers being squeezed out of business by development: Another farm in danger:

Baw Baw Shire Council meets tonight to decide on planning changes that would include the McGlone Rd egg farm, to the immediate northwest of town, in a new residential zone.

But the Verstedens don’t want to leave their fourth­generation business, which has 300,000 chickens and employs more than 50 people.’

Update 3: It doesn’t look like this is getting any better: Tasmanian farmers face right to farm threat:

The Tasmania Farmers and Graziers Association boss says farmers across the state are under “unrelenting pressure”.

This was coming from urban encroachment, restrictive regulatory overlays, increasing community expectations and rocketing input cost pressures that threaten their viability, Ms Davis said.

She said “unless these issues are successfully addressed, the positive economic benefits of a strong agriculture sector to the Tasmanian economy will be seriously threatened”.

Update 4: I don’t think I’ll put up anymore after this one, as it looks like an ongoing issue that will probably not end until it’s possibly too late: Echuca residents object to irrigation pump:

AN ECHUCA farmer is being abused by newly arrived neighbours due to the noise of his irrigation pump.

“It’s getting too hard to do anything, they (new residents) wanted to move here for the rural lifestyle then they don’t like it when they get here,” he said.

Like councils that allow residential development near airports, which subsequently raise protests about noise, here is another crazy situation where a council has allowed development near a farm and now the farm is threatened with closure because of protesting residents. There are two issues here. Firstly, people seek rural living for the lifestyle that it affords yet, at the same time, some want to destroy the very rural atmosphere that makes those areas special. Secondly, the less farms we have, the more produce we have to import, the more it costs, the lower the quality and less jobs for Australians. Insanity on all counts.

Update 5: And the disassembly of Australian farms continues, with yet another farmer ousted from the land due to tree changers and bureaucracy: http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/news/blackmore-forced-to-switch-beef-breeds-to-counter-right-to-farm-ban/story-fnopvk01-1227603427369.

Update 6: The following article really underscores what I’ve written to date: Sprawling threat to future Melbourne food supply. I wonder how many people really care?

Farming regions surrounding the city such as Werribee, Bacchus Marsh, the Mornington Peninsula and the Cardinia and Casey shires in Melbourne’s southeast currently produce 41 per cent of all fresh fruit and vegetables for Melbourne, but are rapidly shrinking due to pressure from encroaching housing and other urban infrastructure.

…but this is expected to drop to 18 per cent by the time the city’s pop­ulation hits seven million people in 2050.

Update 7: It certainly looks like things are just getting worse:

City of Greater Bendigo councillors have voted to rezone the land from under the family who own it, despite being told in March by Planning Panels Victoria there were no grounds to compulsorily acquire the property.

But, as the Carter family has been telling council since it first came knocking more than 13 years ago, it has no intention of selling it.

“It’s nearly impossible to get good farmland around here and they (the council) want the most valuable part of the place,” said Max Carter, whose grandfather, Herbert, bought the bulk of the land as a soldier settlement block after serving on the Western Front during World War I.

Update 8: It looks like some are beginning to take notice:

…it is increasingly difficult to farm on the fringe. Farmland bordering the city’s Urban Growth Boundary is widely seen as “housing in waiting”, driving up land prices. The high cost of rates, conflicts with non-farming neighbours and low farmgate prices add to the challenges.

Update 9: It’s been a while since I added an update on what’s with our farming future, but it doesn’t look like there’s been any improvement. If anything, farming in Victoria is looking worse:

FARMERS on Melbourne’s outer urban fringe are battling right-to-farm conflicts, skyrocketing rates and the loss of rural services — and are being outbid by residential developers for land.

While much of the Sate Government’s policy and funding has focused on regional cities, Victoria’s Peri Urban Group of Rural Councils says “fragmented governance and inadequate policy responses are the norm” on Melbourne’s fringe. The group estimates agriculture in the outer ring of Baw Baw, Murrindindi, Macedon Ranges, Moorabool, Golden Plains and Surf Coast shires supports 5268 jobs and accounts for 17 per cent of Victoria’s primary produce, worth $2 billion.

Add Werribee’s vegetable-growing hub and the City of Geelong’s farming zones, and the numbers are even higher.

Update 10: Another win for the NIMBY crowd, Broiler farm proposal rejected by South Gippsland council has community celebrating:

A small South Gippsland community is celebrating the local council’s decision to vote against a proposed broiler farm near Leongatha, despite council staff recommending councillors vote in favour of the development

Update 11: Nearly two years ago I wrote about the problems affecting farmers in all areas of Australia and now others are realising how critical this issue is. ‘How to save Australia’s remaining farmland as demand for housing continues‘:

Only 10 per cent of the continent is arable and much of that land on the coastal fringe is being swallowed up as state governments respond to the growing demand for affordable housing.

A suite of policies aimed at saving some of the good farmland close to the city was needed.