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In Pursuit of Fresh Local Food Pleasures

We committed to the name of our new lifestyle business well before making the move. As we worked more hours than we ever planned in Wellington, we'd steal away our Friday nights, relieved at the end of each week to wind down. Ever since Holly has been very young we've always eaten dinner together, but a tradition formed on Fridays where Holly would have something super easy, her choice, and often something that she would have a go at cooking herself. For us, it was at least two courses based around more decadent ingredients and our evening was spent together in the kitchen. Chatting about the week that was, but inevitably as the wine flowed and Friday feasts inspired by our ever growing collection of favourite cook books were enjoyed, conversation led to our dreams. Having the gumption to throw in those well paid positions, get some land, grow our own produce in a beautiful setting and create a life that revolved around a simpler existence. Where we'd entertain visitors with great hospitality and share all the goodness this wonderful country has to offer.

Wellington has a rich foodie community that's always evolving, despite being a location with a reputation for less than tropical weather, more often than not we'd be drawn to the locally grown food and delicious products that are in such abundance. Maybe it's something about the challenging climate that makes people even more resourceful there, resulting in a plethora of local treasures and all to be sourced just 'Down the Road'.

In this age of environmental awareness, living lighter on the earth and with sustainable intentions, eating local became a natural aspiration for us. Having travelled quite a lot and visited most parts of our home land, we also know that local goodness can be found in any part of this beautiful country. As the concept developed, we knew this was what we wanted to embrace and explore, to be the basis of what we would eventually pursue together. So Down the Road began to build in our minds, waking on a Saturday morning we'd often be reminded of our courageous discussions, with creative musings captured on paper and secured triumphantly under a magnet on the fridge.

Although we're still in the very early stages of what we hope for our new lifestyle, we regularly pinch ourselves, disbelieving that we've managed to land in such an ideal spot to start living the dream. As far as the food journey is concerned, there was never any doubt that Northland would be home to much locally grown and produced deliciousness. With a subtropical climate, generous rainfall and high sunshine hours, we couldn't wait to start exploring.

As it happens, discovering Northland's bounty requires a spirit of adventure, the willingness to travel off the beaten track and turn a few stones in order to find the treasure.
With a mature foodie soul, Wellington is also home to a large creative and self-promoting population, so spoilt were we to have new products very well signposted at earliest availability. Marketing seems to be second nature down there, whether by a funky painted food truck, slick social media campaign or local promotion at the many fresh food markets dotted around the region each weekend. Online representation goes without saying and Wellington is also home to one of the best cash and carry / fresh food marketplaces in the country. Moore Wilson's is an institution and well known by many as a chef's shop, but more recently also provides restaurant quality ingredients to the public. If anything is new and worth a try then you're guaranteed to find it here - yes, it's fair to say I really miss Moore Wilson's.

Now though, It's all about the North, the aspiration is local food and there is no doubt the treasure is here. It's not obvious in the supermarkets, there's no Moore Wilson's, Nosh or Farro here and these little gems can sometimes be found in the least likely of places (our local petrol station for example, stocks a small selection of very good local cheese, olive oil, condiments and local produce). I learnt before moving here, that Whangarei is actually host to New Zealand's longest running growers market - say no more I thought, I love a good food market.

Now, home is about 20 minutes drive from the centre of town (where the growers market takes place), and given the previously mentioned Friday night feast tradition, the inevitable partner to this is a lazy start to Saturday morning. So there's been a catch to frequenting the growers market each Saturday and that is, it's all done and dusted by 10am. Coming from a market mecca in Wellington, we had our pick; head north on a Saturday or to the city on a Sunday knowing that all would still be in full swing until midday at the earliest.

So while I reluctantly admit this, I've resisted in quiet protest for a whole year against this early market model, in which time I've only managed to pop by once, albeit after 9.30am to witness most sold-out stall holders packing down after a busy morning trade. I've bemoaned the fact there are often imported oranges in the supermarkets when Kerikeri is well-known as the citrus capital of the country, I've thrown my hands up when I can't seem to locate certain produce or products yet I see country roads lined with orchards, vege laden fields, farmlets, olive groves and more. "I know it's growing here but why is it so hard to find?" I would whine.
So I finally got a grip on reality, the market which has been leading the way in this country for almost 20 years, with true paddock to plate principals and going from strength to strength year on year, was not about to ease or extend it's trading hours for the likes of some townie bird who can't quite manage to haul her butt out of bed in time to catch the juiciest of worms. "This year" I announced "our tradition may have to change". Knowing it's been there all along and it's where we should be shopping to enjoy Northland's best, freshest and most delicious goodness direct from the growers, of course it was a no brainer. After all we've changed our life now, it's time to start a few new traditions.

So it was just last weekend, the early morning sky was clear, sun sparkled across dew smothered meadows and an overwhelming sense of new day possibility filled the air. The odd car and early morning jogger moved through suburban streets, but then, like stumbling across a honey hive of the happiest bees, I entered the zone. This, I realised is what most of the local population is doing while the rest of us loll about between the sheets.

I expected the offering here to be good but this market is something else! The burgeoning produce, vibrant with subtropical colour, exuding natural, organic, spray free goodness, says it all. There are no bells or whistles here, no foodie fashion or dazzling displays but every single grower is wholeheartedly connected to their product and passionately shares their goods and their story with willing shoppers.
I enthusiastically handed over my cash in exchange for crisp veges, sweet smelling fruit, some of the most delicate fresh oyster mushrooms I've ever seen, plump aqua tinted duck eggs, giant bulbs of elephant garlic, rich smoked bacon... now this is what I call shopping I thought as slurped back freshly squeezed orange juice, soaking up the bustling morning scene.

Feeling more than slightly silly having wasted all this time resisting to get on board with an early start, especially considering I'm not actually very good at sleep-ins. Fitful morning slumber with bizarre vivid dreams often leaves me feeling more exhausted than anything else.

Driving home my mind is buzzing with inspiration for the countless meals ahead to celebrate my bounty. Despite my late adoption, I'm definitely an easy convert. Northland's local treasure is gathered each week with loving care, plucked fresh from the fields, bottled, bagged and boxed ready for purchase. The market was founded out of necessity in a time when the local grower economy was on the brink of extinction due to the squeeze of multinational supermarkets. The ethos is about sustainability of not only farmer livelihood but the entire community and economy that surrounds it. They've remained rigid on the rules for stall holders here and it's an obvious key to the outstanding quality of everything on offer.

There's no doubt that some brilliant branding, clever packaging and ingenious marketing antics greatly assist the elevation of a product to a wider audience. Necessity, as they say is the mother of invention and sometimes I think sticking to the essence of your creation can be an equally powerful tool. I can't help but constantly think of all the untapped possibilities for this region, the heart is strong, filled with passion and the intrigue is in the everyday people, doing what they do - just Down the Road. I'm very excited to be part of it's future!