Newshub Nation: Return to local market gardens pitched as safeguard against future climate change-related food security concerns

The fruit bowl of New Zealand is now a mud bath. 

Nearly five months on from Cyclone Gabrielle and fertile food-producing land in Hawke's Bay is still a graveyard of crops. 

"It's just been smashed to bits," said Brydon Nisbet, the president of the Hawke's Bay Fruit Growers Association, who showed Newshub reporter Alexa Cook around his destroyed orchards. 

It's estimated about 40 percent of Hawke's Bay's crops are ruined and Nisbet describes it as "a heavy hit for the country". 

A sense of uncertainty hangs heavy and some cyclone-hit farmers are frustrated with the lack of funding for their recovery

Nisbet said he's hearing of "growers that have had enough, they want out".

The Esk Valley was hit particularly hard in Cyclone Gabrielle, and Nisbet predicts "a lot of it won't be grown on again".

It's also feared the red-zoning of Esk Valley will leave businesses with no customers, restrict growers' abilities to tend to their crops and turn the area into a ghost town, meaning land that has been farmed for generations will be lost.

"That's a broken legacy for the children, and so that's a huge area of wellbeing that we're really concerned about for them," said Nisbet. 

Growers can claim up to $250,000 in cyclone relief funds, but that doesn't go far when you have no insurance, and growers are unable to insure against flooding.

The precarious nature of the future of many farms in Hawke's Bay is raising questions about the vulnerability of New Zealand's food supply. 

Matt Morris, a sustainability advisor for Canterbury University, said: "We need to do things a little bit differently."

Morris helped organise a community feast for the University where community groups tackling food security issues can come together with researchers, politicians and locals to share kai ideas and resources.

"Why is so much food being wasted when people are going hungry? Why do we wreck the planet when we're in the middle of an ecological crisis?" Morris asked.

The topic of food sustainability is one taken very seriously by George Stanley, who runs the Smith Street Community Farm in Christchurch. 

Stanley said she "went to uni with three kids and had to cut the cloth and I grew all our food in the backyard".

Now she's helping others grow their own food. 

The two-acre urban farm can feed 120 families a week and there's currently a waitlist to buy their $25 produce boxes. 

Stanley noted a surge in interest from people wanting to grow their own food since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We've just filled our last plot this week," she said. 

"Three years ago we had seven plot holders and now we have 28."

She said that just about everybody that comes to the garden is worried about where their food is going to come from and how much it will cost. 

Figures from the Ministry of Health show that 12.5 to 14 percent of Aotearoa's population is food insecure, meaning they don't have access to food regularly. 

Stanley has observed people stockpiling food to try and counter increased scarcity. 

"People are definitely freezing their excess in summer, they're not wasting anything. 

"Their bottling all the peaches, they're making applesauce, and jars are a hot commodity trade item," she said. 

In the 1980s, New Zealand had 26,000 market gardens similar to the Smith Street Community Farm. 

Today, there are just 900, and with questions being raised around food security, people like Stanley are advocating for their resurgence. 

"Managing land for food resilience in a park-like setting is the way we're probably going to go in the future," she said. 

"Supply chains are disrupted constantly and if we can produce food in the city then we actually have some security about where we get our food from."

Morris said that "localising and bringing things back in is an economic restructuring, so it does need political leadership."

He said it's critical we "stop building on our most productive soils".

"Let's preserve them for food production because we're going to need them."

Across large areas of cyclone-ravaged land on the East Coast, growers who are attempting to establish themselves are now questioning where they are going to get their new trees from. 

"It could be two, three, four years before somebody even gets trees that they've ordered this year," Nisbet said. 

He argued that quicker government assistance would make a huge difference. 

If another cyclone or weather event hits the East Coast, Nisbet wants "the Government to come up with an idea or a plan to help mitigate that risk for growers".

On Thursday, the Government announced that businesses badly impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle and other severe weather events earlier this year will be entitled to more flexible loans with lower interest rates.

Watch the full video for more. 

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