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Connecting consumers to their produce

Connecting consumers to their produce

As published in Farm Weekly's RIPE magazine on Thursday  1 May

 Trish Murrell (left) and Tamieka Preston have turned their passion for local produce into a business that promotes sustainable produce for the benefit of producers and the community.

A NEW business has taken food provenance to another level with the notion of 'locavore'.

A locavore is a person who makes an effort to eat food that is grown, raised or produced locally.

It's a worldwide movement that aims to connect people to the production of their food and reduce the distance food has travelled.

With the vision to promote their local story of agriculture and producers, Tamieka Preston, of Mooliabeenie, and Trish Murrell, Chittering, established a virtual farmers' market with produce from the Northern Valleys region, north of Perth, to service the local community.

As fate would have it, the COVID-19 pandemic happened to coincide with the official launch of the Northern Valleys Locavore Store (NVLS), which involves a virtual and physical store housed in the old original Bindoon bakery, as well as a delivery service.

A Regional Economic Development (RED) grant facilitated the development of the online platform, which has been a work in progress for the past 18 months.

An official launch was planned for March 2020, but while the pandemic cancelled the launch party itself, it also brought about an unprecedented demand for local fresh produce to be purchased online and delivered, and the business has been full steam ahead ever since.

Northern Valleys Locavore Store staff members Emilie Rimon (left) and Jenny Johnson in the store at Bindoon.

 Northern Valleys Locavore Store staff members Emilie Rimon (left) and Jenny Johnson in the store at Bindoon.

"It was always our business model to be online and deliver but I guess people were slower to take it up when they were able to shop for their weekly groceries outside the region, so it has been a great opportunity for us to widen our customer base and show people how much is available locally," Ms Preston said.

"It has been very satisfying to have been able to help people get what they need during this time."

With the farmers' markets closed due to COVID-19, Ms Preston said growers were grateful to have another avenue to sell through.

"We are thrilled because it means that more people are finally able to see the variety that is produced here in the region," she said.

"It makes it easier for them to choose local produce because a lot of what shoppers find in the supermarkets is from other States or even imported from overseas."

The feedback from consumers has been overwhelmingly positive for the business, with praise for the quality, freshness and the broad range of products available.

Grower Tash Trandos of Trandos Tomatoes, Neerabup.

 Grower Tash Trandos of Trandos Tomatoes, Neerabup.

"We really wanted people to discover that this produce has only travelled 100 kilometres as all the fresh produce in the store is sourced from within a 100km radius," Ms Preston said.

"So it's a lot fresher than if it's travelled down via a marketplace to supermarket storage and then transported to the shelf - we've cut out so much of that chain.

"Producers are enjoying knowing that more local people are choosing their produce, knowing where it's come from and consumers have become more interested in learning about those origins."

The business delivers to towns of Bullsbrook, Bindoon, Badgingarra, Calingiri, Dandaragan, Gingin, Guilderton, Lancelin, Moora, Muchea, New Norcia, Yerecoin and all the farmlands between them.

The story of seasonality has also been shared as consumers learn why certain products are not available at certain times of the year.

"For example, people have asked why we don't have grapes when the supermarkets do; it's because the grape season has finished here so the ones in the supermarkets have either been in cold storage for a while or are imported and incurred massive food miles," Ms Preston said.

"This has really hit home for people and I think it is a fantastic thing to have come out of this situation.

"It's about enjoying fruit and vegetables while they are in season and then looking forward to the produce that comes with the next season, so now consumers are saying goodbye to the summer fruits and looking forward to what autumn will bring."

Bindoon farmer Colleen Osborn.

 Bindoon farmer Colleen Osborn.

The online store operates similar to services such as Gumtree and offers producers a rarity to be price makers, rather than price takers.

Growers post their products and set the price and the store earns a 30 per cent commission from every sale.

"Producers are getting a lot more money for their products than they would be selling into a supermarket chain," Ms Preston said.

"And they're actually in control of the price which is really rare.

"I think that producers are the ones who know best what their product is worth - they know how much it cost to produce and should be able to set the price accordingly.

"That was our ethos when we started the store.

"If the price is too expensive for the market, then that's something producers have to consider, but at least they can make that choice."

Producers deliver their products to the store, which is stored in the cool room or shop and is then delivered to consumers in a refrigerated truck.

Cheese products are provided by Gingin producer Julie Drummond, of Local Goat.

 Cheese products are provided by Gingin producer Julie Drummond, of Local Goat.

Food waste is common throughout the supermarket supply chain and major shops only accept produce of a certain standard or appearance, but Ms Preston said NVLS sold produce of varying appearance and quality, as long as growers were honest and marketed and priced it accordingly.

Producers might offer their mid-range products or seconds which are priced differently to higher range products.

There is also a disclaimer on mixed boxes, declaring that all the fruit is unwaxed, natural and ungraded.

"It goes to consumers just how it comes from the orchard - so for example we don't sell de-greened or waxed citrus," she said.

"We have very little waste and certainly don't throw away any fruit or vegetables based on their appearance if it's still good quality.

"Any spoiled produce goes to local livestock."

The store essentially provides producers another avenue to sell their lower-grade products too and for a better price.

Even if they only break even, it's better than making a loss.

Ms Preston said seconds and lower-grade products were commonly used by consumers to make jams or preserves.

"It's all marketable," she said.

"It's all part of sharing the story of agriculture and getting people away from this expectation of uniform, perfect produce in the supermarket environment and look at what farmers have available and how it looks after it comes straight from the farm."

The products available include fruit, vegetables, honey, frozen foods, nuts, oils, olives, relishes, jams, preserves, salt, lupin products, eggs, goat cheeses and even some household items such as cow hide products, candles, beeswax wraps, handcrafted soaps and scrubs.

The store has also partnered with the Bindoon Bakehaus and has collaborated with Gingin Premium Meats and Mottainai Lamb.

Fresh beef from Gingin Premium Meats is available online and frozen, cryovaced Mottainai lamb will also be available very soon.

Ms Preston said the store was hoping to source more meat options from other producers whose livestock is both traceable and ethically grown.

As part of its sustainability mission, the store uses recycled newspaper to make origami packets and boxes for the produce to reduce single use plastic.

 As part of its sustainability mission, the store uses recycled newspaper to make origami packets and boxes for the produce to reduce single use plastic.

Essentially, consumers can now get most of their everyday groceries and fresh produce from NVLS, which she said was the ultimate vision for the business.

"Local shops are very important to small country towns and we certainly need to support them too," she said.

"However, we want to service the people of this region with its own food.

"So people in the region eat the food that's produced in their region, much like they do in Europe and other places where consumers are very proud of their local produce and support their producers."

The store is also developing an app called NVLS, which is due to be launched in early May and will make the shopping/ordering process even easier.

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