The recent concern over pig welfare in New Zealand is a real opportunity for New Zealand Farmers Markets to step into the spotlight, according to Farmers Markets New Zealand chairman, Chris Fortune.
Fortune says with little direction from the Pork Industry Board as to which producers are free range or otherwise, Farmers Markets are the only forum for consumers to have a conversation directly with the people who are growing their bacon, ham and pork. Chris Fortune points out that farmers markets give people the opportunity to move past the headlines, and go straight to the source. Farmers markets also give pork producers the opportunity to build loyalty and tell their individual story so they don’t get tarred with the same brush as disreputable producers.
There are a range of pork producers represented at New Zealand’s farmers markets, however because most of them are small scale, they tend towards outdoor rather than indoor farming systems. These include those producers like Jonathan Walker and wife Sarah who specialise in free range pork from old, rare breeds of pig which are well suited to outdoor conditions.
Walker has seen his sales almost double over the last 3-4 weeks and simply cannot keep up with demand. He says he has received over 20 emails from restaurants, butchers and delis, just over the last week. He adds that there is certainly a huge increase in interest in his product, driven by welfare concerns for the animals themselves.
Walker comments that one of the arguments put forward is that free range pork is more expensive. “It’s true that my product is a more expensive product, but if that is your major concern then I would argue that at the end of the day you need less of it. It’s all about taste. I believe that is because of the way I farm it. I sell my bacon to a local burger joint who have found they need to use less bacon to get the same flavour as they were previously. The meat is more satisfying; two sausages make an adequate meal instead of three.”
There are indoor pork producers represented at farmers markets as well and they too are relishing the opportunity to engage with their customers about the way they raise their pigs.