Lucy Corry’s Blog: New Zealand’s true heroes

Lucy Corry dishes out gold medals to those who keeps us fed – from market gardeners to nut butter producers. 

In the week or so to come, New Zealand media will be filled with hyperbole about our Olympic athletes. They’ll be heralded as champions, sporting sensations and ‘golden girls’ as sportswriters scrape the bottom of the cliche barrel.

This enthusiastic praise and adulation is well-founded, for the most part. I’m no armchair super-fan but I know enough to recognise that high-performance sport requires unfathomable tenacity and talent.

However, I can’t help but wish that we shone the same golden light on a group of people who show comparable levels of grit and determination on a daily basis: the people who feed us.

Consider, for example, the hardy group of growers and makers who bring their wares to Wellington’s Harbourside Market every Sunday morning. The Harbourside Market, which occupies a stretch of concrete between Te Papa and Waitangi Park on Wellington’s waterfront, is a capital institution.

A market of some sort has operated in this area since 1920 (the original Wellington Produce Market warehouses were in nearby Blair St) and it’s been in its current location since 2002.

These days there are about 50 stalls, from mum-and-dad fruit, vegetable and flower sellers to purveyors of artisan peanut butter, organic eggs, Chinese pancakes, Greek souvlaki, French cheese, Hungarian chimney cakes and dozens of other tempting ways to empty your wallet and fill your belly.

On a sunny day (yes, Wellington does have them!), the market is thronged with people buying vegetables, meeting friends, walking dogs, pushing prams and generally playing the part of active, engaged city dwellers. I love doing my shopping here for all of those reasons, and because I’m nosy and like to see – or ask – what other people are buying and why.

Crucially, the fruit and vegetables are often cheaper, fresher-looking and better quality than those for sale at the supermarket across the road, too. On days like today (near horizontal rain, a biting southerly), the foot traffic drops but the traders stoically remain. It breaks my heart to think of these businesses being at the mercy of the weather in this way.

Many of them have probably worked flat-out all Saturday, picking and packing their trucks, then got up well before dawn to drive into the city from the Hutt Valley, Wairarapa, Horowhenua or Kapiti Coast.

Still, they show up and they’re unfailingly cheerful.  To me, the fact that they do it every week, without big brand sponsorship, media adulation or the prospect of a medal, makes them even more worthy of our praise.

Anyone who has ever tried to be self-sufficient — even on a minor scale — knows that it’s a fraught process filled with highs and lows. Imagine the stress of doing it with the pressure of a) feeding other people and b) making a living? I honestly think growing, farming or working in hospitality is like parenting; if you wrote a job description for it no one would ever sign up.

If the people who do these jobs were paid what they’re truly worth, there would be collective outrage at the cost. Most New Zealanders are unable to feed themselves without external support.

To me, that means we need to re-evaluate how we recognise, celebrate and compensate the people who show up to make sure there are vegetables to sell at our markets, coffee in our cups and food on our shelves. The Olympics happen every four years, but food producers are running the race of their lives every day.


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NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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