skipping the supermarket Feed

Shop for your community - big is not always best

My favourite local greengrocers Peter Hajevsky and wife Mary O'conner at The Fresh ingredient in Georgetown with a bunch of locally grown lettuce. Little Eco Footprints

Shopping can be a bothersome chore. Or it can be a way to contribute to your community. It’s your choice. You can pop into the supermarket, check out via an automatic teller and support a large national company more interested in profit than people. Or you can wander into your local greengrocer, butcher or independent baker and chat to a familiar face and contribute to the viability of small business in your community.

One of the first things I did after our recent move back to Newcastle was visit our local greengrocer. After living in a town where the last one closed years ago, I was excited to have a greengrocer again. Mary spotted me and said "You’re back?". Her familiarity was a huge contrast to my visit to a nearby 24-hour department store. I made a purchase without speaking to a soul and a self-serve checkout computer told me "to have a nice day".

For some people, particularly the elderly, a visit to the local shops may be the only time they speak to someone. Do we want their only interaction to be with a self-serve computer?

For me, one of the main benefits of a local independent greengrocer is that I’m more likely to find local products. For example, The Fresh Ingredient stocks local products I’d never find at the nearby big supermarket. I can buy local Udder Farm Milk, locally-baked Bills organic bread, and Turners ice creams – made by a family business operating in Newcastle for more than 70 years. Plus there’s a suite of local fruit and vegetables including Sandy Hills avocados grown near Nelson Bay and colourful lettuce grown by Hinchcliffe Hydroponics near Cessnock.

In a quick visit to the local greengrocers I can easily contribute to a handful of local producers.

The benefit doesn’t stop there. Peter, the other half of The Fresh Ingredient, told me their success is linked to the viability of all the other stores in their local shopping strip. "The chemist, newsagent, butcher, hardware store and so on – if any of those stores closed down, we would feel it." By supporting the local greengrocers, I’m supporting the viability of all the other small businesses in the shopping strip.

And the benefit doesn’t even stop there. Money spent in small independent stores tends to stay local, whereas money spent in the big supermarkets promptly disappears from the community.

The disappearance of small greengrocers is also disastrous for our farmers. With few alternatives than to sell to the big supermarkets they can be at the whim of their bargaining power

The consolidation of suppliers and distribution centres by the big supermarkets is also decreasing our food security. All the stock on the shelves of my local big supermarket comes from a single distribution centre in Sydney. The distribution centre also supplies more than 600 other supermarkets across NSW and Queensland. That scale doesn’t leave much space for small and local.

Carefully choosing where you shop is one way you can contribute to your community. We each have the power to make a difference. As Coles managing director John Durkin has writtenthere are 30,000 independent grocers and food retailers in Australia, which means customers can always vote with their feet”.

Let’s do just that. Let’s vote with our feet and choose to shop for our community.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 25th January 2015.

Berry Delicious Pickings

Picking Blueberries 1 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

It’s blueberry season here in the Hunter Valley, time to enjoy these berries fresh.

Picking Blueberries 2 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Misty Valley Farm in the lower Hunter lets you pick your own organic blueberries for a fraction of what you would pay at the shops.

My daughter and I picked three kilograms of delicious blueberries. 

Picking Blueberries 3 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Or to be more precise, I picked and she sneaked, with her hand making its way to her mouth more often than the bucket.

Picking Blueberries 4 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 5 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 6 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 7 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 8 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

We devoured handfuls on the drive home and the remainder were destined for the freezer.

Blueberries are easy to freeze.

I simply toss the berries into a container and put them in the freezer. If they are not organic I wash them in water and spread them out on a tea towel to dry.

We’ll enjoy the berries over the next few months in our porridge, on yoghurt, in smoothies, and as a simple frozen treat. Frozen blueberries are one of my favourite summer snacks.

Some families return to Misty Valley Farm every year to pick 20 kilograms of Blueberries to create a freezer stash that will last the year.

These local home frozen berries are far superior to the bags of frozen berries you’ll find in the supermarket.

Most, if not all of the berries you’ll find in the supermarket are imported from China and Chile.

Not only do these berries come with high food miles, they may also carry high levels of mould, fungicides and other chemicals.

Misty Valley Farm is open to the public during blueberry season - from around December until early February. 

More information on visiting the farm can be found on the Misty Valley Farm website

Are you a fan of pick-your-own farms? Do you know of any other pick-your-own farms in the Hunter region or elsewhere? I know of Hillsdale Orchard - but would love to know of others. 

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 26 January 2013]

A feast with a story to tell

Authors Dad and Sister Christmas food Shopping at Newcastle City Markets Tricia Hogbin Little Eco Footprints

I won't be slaving away in the kitchen this Christmas. Nor will I be spending a fortune at the supermarket. Instead, our Christmas meal will be simple and sourced from my favourite alternatives to the supermarket.

I’ve ordered free range ‘‘happy ham’’ from Organic Feast. I like that our Christmas ham enjoyed a life of wandering paddocks, not confined to a concrete floored shed.

We’ll enjoy a few salads, including a prawn rice salad my mum has made each Christmas for almost two decades. Each year she brings out the yellowing torn recipe and reads between the splashes from past Christmases.

The prawns will be collected Christmas Eve morning from the Newcastle Fisherman’s Cooperative. My dad and sister arrived at the Wickham store last year at 5am just on opening. Expecting to be first in line they found themselves at the end of a queue of hundreds of people. Apparently people start queuing from 3am, so this year we’ll pack coffee and make an adventure of it.

For dessert we’ll enjoy a delicious pudding from Pudding Lane. These award-winning puddings are made in Newcastle using local free range eggs and locally baked bread. The custard will be made using local Udder Farm milk, picked up from my favourite greengrocer The Fresh Ingredient, who pride themselves on supporting local farmers.

Mangoes and cherries are another favourite for our family Christmas. We’ll buy a box of each from the Newcastle City Markets. Not to be confused with the Newcastle City Farmers Markets, these markets distribute wholesale fresh fruit and vegetables to the entire Hunter Region. Each morning from 4am they’re bustling with greengrocers and restaurateurs picking up their fresh produce. Thankfully, they open briefly to the public on Fridays between 9.30 and 11am. Last year, much to my dad and sister’s delight, mangoes were only $10 a tray.

We’ll also visit the Newcastle Farmers Markets for other Christmas foods and treats, including Dennis’s delicious natural cordial. My favourite is Rose Petal & Lime syrup, which mixes well with gin.

If you’re looking for a Christmas feast with a story to tell, try to steer clear of the supermarket and instead support our local producers and small businesses.

[This column appeared in The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 08 December 2012]

Market Marvels: Steering clear of shopping malls

I really dislike shopping malls, especially in the lead up to Christmas. Crowded corridors, Christmas carols blaring non-stop, shopping trolleys to be dodged and car parks that are impossible to park in and even more impossible to escape from.

I rarely, if ever, have a long list of ‘wants’, but as soon as I set foot in a shopping mall I feel deprived and daggy and decide I need a whole heap of stuff that I didn’t even know existed only moments before.

Thankfully, I haven’t set foot in a shopping mall for almost a year. I’m skipping supermarkets, shopping malls and super chains for all of 2012.

I’m doing most of my Christmas gift shopping at local markets, where there’s stall upon stall of unique, quirky, handmade creations far superior to the run-of-the-mill, mass-produced gifts I’d find at the mall.

I kicked off my Christmas browsing with a trip to The Olive Tree Market, well known for its eclectic array of stalls. What I loved the most about these markets is that I met the makers.

Wall art by Safety Pin Designs - Fig Tree Markets - Tricia Hogbin little eco footprints

Karla MacLean and her Dandelion and Honey creations - Fig Tree Markets - Tricia Hogbin little eco footprints

Handmade toys by Dandelion and Honey - Fig Tree Markets - Tricia Hogbin little eco footprints

Danielle Higgins and her Grubby Princess artwork - Fig Tree Markets - Tricia Hogbin

Prints by Brubby Princess - Fig Tree Markets - Tricia Hogbin Little eco footprints

Knits by Juliet's Creations - Fig Tree Markets - Tricia Hogbin Little eco footprints

I spoke to Dan of Safety Pin Design, Karla of Dandelion & Honey, Danielle of Grubby Princess and watched Juliette knitting away behind her gorgeous collection of hand-knitted beanies. I saw the spark in their eyes when they spoke about their creations.

Shower caps by Alile Jane - Fig Tree Markets - Tricia Hogbin little eco footprints

Hats by Ike and fly _ Fig Tree Markets  - Tricia Hogbin Little eco footprints

I was tempted by original paintings, handmade children’s toys, and upcycled jewellery and have added an Ike & Fly hat and an Alie Jane shower cap to my Christmas wish list.

In among all this browsing and chatting to the creators, I bumped into friends and stopped to chat – try doing that in a shopping mall corridor!

Thankfully, Newcastle is rich in markets.

I’ve mapped out a game plan that will see me visit my favourite markets during the month of December.

Today there’s Art Bazar (9-3pm Civic Park, Newcastle) and The Olive Tree Market. Next weekend there’s Cherry Blossom Markets and the week after there’s Sacred Tree Markets, which I’ve heard is well worth the trip to Branxton. And of course, I can’t forget the Newcastle City Farmers and Makers Market, which is on every Sunday. I’ll write more about this market next week, when I share some tips for Christmas-food shopping that sees you save money and steer clear of the supermarket.

Do you loathe shopping malls as much as I do? Where will you Christmas shop? 

[This column appeared in The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 01 December 2012]

The cost of buying supermarket brands is too high

Udder Farm products including milk in glass bottle

I was a little surprised last week to read that supermarket private label product sales have grown by 85 per cent in the past five years and that private label products are expected to make up around a third of supermarket sales within five years.

That's scary!

Do people really think that the supermarkets won't increase their prices once they have wiped out the competitor brands?

All this discounting means that someone is paying the cost of purchasing $1 litres of milk and $2 loaves of bread - and it's usually the producers - like Milk Maid Marian who wrote recently about how falling milk prices affect her dairy cows.

The major supermarkets are now introducing premium, organic and fair trade products to try and attract private-label buyers 'from all walks of life'. Sneaky -lets just hope that people who are prepared to pay a premium for organic and fair trade aren't prepared to buy supermarket own labels.

Has anyone, partuicularly those of you in small regional towns, been forced to buy a supermarket own label because there was no other option?

We're still going well with the Skipping the Supermarket Challenge and I'm pretty certain we'll likely continue to skip supermarkets next year. Although I suspect moving to a regional area is going to test us.

How are you going with skipping the supermarket?