Raglan families take to new produce co-op by boxload

Sandra Jonas doesn’t have to look far for an example of how much the produce co-op she got up and running locally two months ago is already helping Raglan district families.

The Te Mata mother of four who’s taken time off teaching since four-month-old Freia arrived reckons that thanks to Foodtogether – as the national co-op is called – she can now afford to be “generous” with her own family’s supply of fruit and vegetables.  Sandra says she’s also been busy recipe-hunting so as not to waste the leftovers from her weekly whanau box, which feeds a household of seven including au pair Soraja Atzerodt who helps out with the initiative.

“Now fruit and veggies are not a precious commodity (at home),” Sandra told the Chronicle from the local foodbank building on Bow Street, where Foodtogether boxes are distributed each Wednesday afternoon.

She likes that she doesn’t have to limit for instance the fruit her children – ranging in age from babyhood through to teens – can eat every day.  Sandra reckons her regular $36.50 whanau fiesta box was filled with close to 20kg of produce recently.  “That’s amazing … $1.50 per kilo,” she calculates.  The amount varies, though. “Sometimes there’s more bulky stuff, other times more gourmet (depending on seasonal availability),” she points out.

Besides the whanau box there are two smaller boxes of produce to choose from: a gourmet box for families of three or four at $26.50 and a value box of basics for one or two at $15.

The produce is trucked directly to Raglan from Hamilton’s wholesale markets, Sandra explains. “It’s super-fresh and of really good quality.”  Grown mainly in the Waikato, it has a low ecological footprint and there’s minimal plastic wrapping.  It’s delivered on Wednesday mornings to the foodbank building where volunteer Trevor Edgeworth, who lives nearby, unloads the truck of its crates.

Sandra and a “handful” of helpers – including Soraja, Alex Crane and Nic Wiley – arrive later in the day and set up a production line of sorts to box the produce, which has been pre-ordered from the Foodtogether website.  Co-op members then collect their orders, which in total range from 20 to 30 boxloads weekly. The boxes are recycled from week to week.

Sandra with baby Freia, left, and two-year-old Marnie held by au pair Soraja outside the foodbank from where the produce is distributed.
Sandra with baby Freia, left, and two-year-old Marnie held by au pair Soraja outside the foodbank from where the produce is distributed.

The Raglan hub has gained momentum quite quickly, says Sandra, with about 200 members joining its Facebook page in the past few weeks. Many have their own vegetable gardens but, like Sandra, need more produce and more variety than they can supply themselves.

Foodtogether’s a great initiative that works by cutting out the middle person and running on volunteers, she says. “I (for instance) just have to invest my Wednesday afternoon to help make it work.”  The national co-op “exploded” in Canterbury after the Christchurch earthquakes, she adds, and continues to grow in communities around the country.   

Sandra says the initiative is well summed up in the local Foodtogether Facebook page ethos: “We’re a non-profit social enterprise made up of people right here in Raglan that has the goal of making seasonal fresh fruit and veg accessible to everyone.”   

Edith Symes