Melissa van den Heuvel has been named the 2021 Young Grower of the Year.
The grower organisation has written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to express grower concerns about independent fruit and vegetable retailers are not classified as essential services under COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and 4.
Hort NZ points out to the PM that fresh fruit and vegetables sold through independent retailers are different grades than sold in supermarkets and often at more affordable prices.
“Independent retailers also sell culturally significant fresh fruit and vegetables in their communities (that aren’t readily available in supermarkets) that form the staple diets of different ethnic groups in New Zealand,” the letter adds.
Hort NZ also claims that when New Zealand was in Alert Level 4 and 3 earlier this year, households were significantly impacted by not having access to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from independent retailers, especially lower income households.
“In lower socioeconomic areas … a portion of the population needs walking access to retailers selling fruit and vegetables. This issue is exacerbated by many households facing financial hardship since lockdown due to loss of employment and other pressures.”
Hort NZ’s letter also tells the PM that the closure of independent retailers not only impact consumers, but the horticulture industry as well.
“The closure of independent retailers during lockdown resulted in an excess of fruit and vegetables that could not enter the supply chain. This loss of access resulted in direct financial loss to growers from failure to sell their products, causing some to exit the industry and delay or reduce replanting.”
Hort NZ believes that to maintain adequate supply of affordable fresh fruit and vegetables to all New Zealanders, it is critical that both supermarkets and independent retailers are able to operate if they are able to demonstrate they can do so using COVID-19 safe practices.
“The horticulture industry sincerely requests that the Government re-considers their decision not to recognise independent retailers as essential services. We ask that a decision is made to consistently apply to all independent retailers to ensure New Zealanders have access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables across the country.”