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Revisiting Riverton: the Longwood Loop food resiliency project

Written By: - Date published: 6:15 am, December 22nd, 2021 - 22 comments
Categories: business, economy, sustainability, transport - Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Joanna Macy, elder of the transition movements based in life-affirming models of our future, has a threefold model of change: Holding Patterns (think conventional protest movements), Alternative Structures (eg Doughnut economics, community gardens, regenerative agriculture), and Shifting Consciousness (eg the applied philosophies of deep ecology, ecofeminism, ways of knowing based in systems thinking).

I was pleased to see this excellent write up in the Otago Daily Times of how The Longwood Loop is getting on. The brain child of Riverton food foresters and heirloom orchard pioneers, Robyn and Robert Guyton, the Longwood Loop is a regenerative project that connects up local food growers with local food buyers in rural Western Southland.

Much of what gets written on The Standard, including by myself, is Holding Patterns writing. We’re writing pushback against National, or how Labour need to change, or what’s wrong with the damn world and how that should be resisted.

I can say that the posts I put up about the Longwood Loop fundraiser earlier in the year, are among the most satisfying posts I’ve written, because they were about Alternative Structures and Shifting Consciousness. And people on the ground, getting shit done. We watched real change arrive in real time as the fundraiser made it over the line.

This is what the Longwood Loop is. It’s a leading edge project that is creating an alternative food distribution structure that is functional now, as well as being replicable elsewhere. It draws on philosophies that are changing how we think about food production and resilience, and the economy. I was very excited to read how things are going.

From the ODT,

But every Thursday afternoon, an electric van can be seen going against the grain, humming along in near silence.

Its driver, Robyn Guyton, is on a mission: to revitalise an old trading route and foster community in the process.

In the boot of her 2021 LDV eDeliver 3 are boxes of vegetables, fruit and meat – plus a chocolate and raspberry muffin for one lucky Nightcaps local.

Together with a group of volunteers, Guyton has set up The Longwood Loop – a mobile farmers’ market connecting emerging producers in Western Southland with their community.

Each Thursday, she drives an ever-changing 150km-220km path that starts and ends in Riverton, picking up and redistributing fresh produce along the way.

“It’s an online farmers market [where] the growers put up how much they’ve got, into the website,” Guyton explains.

“Then on Monday, the shop’s open and for three days people can order, and the growers know exactly how many lettuces to pick.

The shape of the loop varies from week to week depending on where orders are placed, but follows the same general path.

“It’s not like a normal farmers’ market where you might have 50 lettuces and you might sell 20. So there’s no food waste. It’s same-day [delivery] so there’s no overnight storage needed. And it’s carbon-free travel.”

Buyers can order as little or as much as they want, and now 14 runs in, about 80 of the 200 registered customers have done just that.

At the first stop between Riverton and Ōtautau, she drops off an empty chilly bin from last week’s run and collects meat, hazelnuts and 10kg of blueberries. And so it goes.

Like all good regenerative initiatives the Longwood Loop project creates change in multiple, intersecting ways,

  • climate action via lowered GHG transport emissions, and demonstrating one way of reducing NZ’s very large food miles/ecological footprint
  • recreating new systems that restore local communities
  • keeping profit in the community by running as a non-profit organisation and allowing growers to be paid more for their produce
  • this also means buyers not paying high delivery fees often associated with rural living
  • local food growing is supported, providing livelihood for people doing what they love, and tending towards organic and regenerative methods
  • future proofing and food resilience
  • providing a template that other communities can copy

The Longwood Loop is also pushing political boundaries. The politics of food relocalisation and small scale regenerative agriculture/horticulture aren’t talked about much on the left but this is a good snippet of the creative and progressive meeting the rigidity of the conventional,

Even after the vehicle was purchased, Guyton says, the project was put in jeopardy by the Southland District Council, which raised concerns growers should be registered with the Ministry for Primary Industries.

A back-and-forth ensued, and MPI senior adviser Simon Holst ultimately approved the deliveries.

Guyton says she was going to do it anyway.

“I got the van and I started to do loops and [the council] said, ‘you can’t go’. And I said, ‘I will’.

“I was prepared to get arrested for it,” she recalls enthusiastically.

“Nobody’s going to die off food that’s picked up and dropped off the same afternoon.”

Key here is the resilience politics of greenies, transitioners, DIYers and anarchists, where we just don’t wait for the government to act, we get on with and build the new ways ourselves. Then the centre will follow. This is how change happens, and it’s one of the more heartening aspects of the climate and ecology crises. All over New Zealand people like the Guytons have forged ahead with exactly the models we need in a post-carbon, life affirming, climate change world.

Robyn Guyton (image via ODT)

22 comments on “Revisiting Riverton: the Longwood Loop food resiliency project ”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Labour will never change. They're stuck in their co-dependency relation to National. It's because their collective mindset is based on business providing jobs. The idea that folks can co-create their own economy is way too radical for Labour to even contemplate.

    So equating the left with progress just creates a conceptual problem in politics. We ought to be pragmatic and accept that most on the political left aren't self-reliant. Instead, they rely on a hand-out from the political right. They think just like a century ago when the Labour Party was formed by labourers. Jobs get created by capitalists – not by workers.

    Genuine progress can only come from working models such as the one you describe. Others, seeing how it works, realise how they can do it too elsewhere. As you say, a template. Then the practical politics of learning how to work with others to make it happen according to plan. It's the fulfillment of the alternative economy first envisioned half a century back, but it will co-exist with neoliberalism so long as foreign trade remains viable. Labour is surviving as a political force on that basis alone. There is no sign whatsoever of regenerative thought in the Labour Party. Nor is there much evidence of it in the current Green Party. Leftism is a dire political affliction, inasmuch as it turns people into dinosaur simulacra.

  2. Ed1 2

    My family participated in a local fruit and vege group in Wellington the 1980's – one or two people would go down to Blair or Allen St in Courtenay Place to the food market once a week and purchase, based on orders from probably 20 to 30 families in the group. They would buy roughly what had been ordered, with a bit more of anything particularly cheap, take the boxes to a local hall for others to sort, and then the boxes would be delivered in our local area. It possibly by-passed local greengrocers; supermarkets had smaller fruit and vege departments to current stores, but it gave savings in cost and encouraged a bit of experimentation. Eventually the auction place moved to I think Grenada where a new place was designed for easier access for trucks. It was further away from our suburb, so the group ceased. Did that group and others enable the supermarkets to take over from local greengrocers in our suburbs?

    • Dennis Frank 2.1

      Yeah, we had one in Mt Eden, early 1980s. Killed stone dead by the Labour Party, of course, when they brought in Rogernomics to start a race to the bottom of the market.

  3. Anker 3
    • Wonderful. Congratulations Robert G on walking the talk.

    inspiring post Weka. People living their values.

  4. gsays 4

    Thanks weka for 'keeping us in the loop'wink.

    Well done the Guytons for putting great ideas into practice. It takes courage to implement what, after a wee bit of time, is an obvious move.

    I was chatting to a buddy the other day about food and our relationship with it. We lamented the commodification of it, by that I mean the highly processed stuff that dominates supermarket shelves, the vast amount of food outlets available 24 hours a day and how the idea of coming together at a table to share food as a ritual.

    My reckons have this as one of the foundations that people, families and communities have lost since the '70's. There is so much to be gained by eating together and unfortunately it is not valued anymore.

    • Dennis Frank 4.1

      eating together

      Primeval, eh? Campfires have been dated to extremely ancient eras in our evolutionary past. Here's the latest from Google:

      A new analysis of burned antelope bones from caves in Swartkrans, South Africa, confirms that Australopithecus robustus and/or Homo erectus built campfires roughly 1.6 million years ago. Nearby evidence within Wonderwerk Cave, at the edge of the Kalahari Desert, has been called the oldest known controlled fire.

      What interests me is the campfire as origin, center and focus of communal interaction. Kitchen nowadays, with stove. BBQ outside as simulation of ancient origin. And family members now doing cellphone isolation within that matrix, at mealtimes. They do it to broaden their community affiliation?

      • gsays 4.1.1

        Your mention of campfire reminds me of my time in scouting. Campfires are held on the second night of a weekend camp. There are all sorts of rituals, rules and protocols involved. No torches, no talking, an opportunity to add and take ashes (thereby, theoretically, maintaining a link to the first scouting campfire held at Brownsea Island, 1907).

        The skits and songs too, are a wonderful communion. Clapping is not comdoned, instead that enthusiasm is put into group cheers.

        The boundaries and protocols above are all a form of sacrifice. As is surrendering individual needs to eat together. Sans electronic devices.

        I get folk now have a cyber life, but the profound lack of etiquette to have your attention taken away from your fellow diners is a disturbing new normal.

        I also have discovered the joy of cooking over charcoal. Grilled asparagus, par-boiled poatoes, capsicums, sweetcorn and yesty's moussaka reheated in the bbq/smoker.

      • Patricia Bremner 4.1.2

        No Dennis, it is bad manners and a lack of mindfulness. Cellphones should be off during food.

      • weka 4.1.3

        Give many kiwis the chance and a firepit appears in the backyard for cooking on and socialising around. It's deep in our DNA.

    • weka 4.2

      Thanks weka for 'keeping us in the loop'

      Damn, didn't think of that, that should have been the post title!

      I was fortunate to grow up with parents and both sets of grandparents being keen gardeners. I suspect an unbroken chain, that my ancestors have always grown their own food. How amazing is that? It's so recent that this has changed, not too hard to get it back. Many people understand the deeper value of homegrown or local.

  5. Hunter Thompson II 5

    Great work by the Guytons and volunteers! Interesting how the SDC bureaucrats tried to stop them – usually the case with a good idea.

    And what would have MPI done, except send an invoice with a large bill?

  6. joe90 6

    we get on with and build the new ways ourselves.

    And price most of us out?

    • weka 6.1

      This is how I see it working (bigger picture).

      Small scale production is at first more expensive. They don't have the scale of Countdown, New World etc, and they don't have those kinds of subsidies.

      So it needs the people that can afford it to buy from new and emerging systems.

      As those systems succeed, they replicate, and then prices will come down somewhat as efficiencies are discovered and new ways of doing things.

      At some point the government will understand the value, and will start to put R and D funding in, as well as resources to upscale (by which I mean more communities not necessarily bigger systems).

      As the systems develop, there will be people paying particular attention to low income people, access and affordability and how to make it equitable. Not sure what it's like in your networks, but there I've always seen low income, politicised people in and around these movements, and as the pressures increase the need for relocalised food, those issues will have to be addressed.

      The other way to think about it is that eventually all our food is going to cost more. Mainstream global organisations have been talking about the impending crop failures from climate change. This will bring shortages and price hikes, and in the end serious problems providing food via the current global supply chains.

      We should be thinking about this now and planning. Sustainable design says to use multiple interconnected solutions for most resiliency. So alongside the Longwood Loop I could see things like council land made available at no or low cost to low income people and funding for tools and classes to help people grow their own food. This happens to an extent anyway, I'd like to see it as the norm in every community. My observation is that a lot of people want to grow some of their own food, especially younger people who have missed out on being raised with a home garden. They hunger for the knowledge on how to do this.

      Not everyone wants to of course, or can, so now there is an opportunity to grow excess produce (most good gardeners have more than they can use) and sell or trade it locally. Some of that will be casual, but if we put structures in place then it could become much easier for low income people to grow food for themselves, and make some money growing for others in their area.

      I know a fair number of people who choose low income lives intentionally, for lifestyle reasons, and one way they make that work is by growing their own produce and lowering their grocery bill. They prefer to work in the garden than do waged work to afford groceries.

      Those are just a few ideas, I'm sure there are more examples of how to address affordability eg food co-ops.

  7. Robert Guyton 7

    Hi weka – thanks for noticing 🙂 You've written a very good piece and your political commentary is very accurate, imo.

    You'll not be surprised to learn that Robyn is the driving-force behind the Longwood Loop project and I am merely the driver (I'm in the right-hand seat of the electric vehicle as we swish from town to town; I couldn't manage the communication and coordination role that Robyn has, seated beside me, contacting growers and customers as we loop around Otautau, Scott's Gap, Nightcaps, Ohai, Tuatapere, Orepuki, Colac Bay then back to Riverton). While Robyn and her team at the environment centre are doing the mahi, I am watching the rapid growth of the Loop "family" as new people join and begin to trade. I'm so encouraged by their warm-heartedness; it's connectivity that does that, I think – some of these towns are "quiet" socially and the contact with the Loop van and us (there are others from our group who drive and accompany at different times) is a welcome event.

    As a further development, a film-maker, armed with a drone and an excellent eye, followed the van around the loop last week, capturing 'footage' of the journey. I watched over his shoulder at the screen of his "drone-console" as he caught a beautiful sequence as Robyn drove along a convoluted section of road between Wairio and Tuatapere, through native-forest-edged farmland; very lovely and when the film is released (and linked to here 🙂 you'll see what a pleasure it is, travelling the loop.

    • weka 7.1

      Thanks Robert. I had a feeling it might have been Robyn as the driving force. Lovely to hear about the volunteers in the background too.

      It's such beautiful country to be driving through, must be a delight. I look forward to the film. Give me a heads up if there's a release event and I can put up a post.

  8. Patricia Bremner 8

    devil just lovely. My Dad had a large garden, and every now and then he would phone friends family and neighbours to organise a drop off of "Joe's garden goodies". Sharing and supporting each other. He would get presents arriving, a fish, bottle of home brewed drinks, flowers, and visitors to see him. We feel like visiting your area Robert and Robyn, it sounds a great place.

    • gsays 8.1

      I have long extolled the virtues of sharing a la your Dad's surpluses. Not barter, not trade but sharing.

      Sharing is in accord with our nature, it feels good to share as it feels good to be shared with. It has to be the next way forward for us when we've finished this neo liberal experiment.

      • weka 8.1.1

        I've always been intrigued by the Māori practice of gifting, which seems a bit different than Pākehā*. I once took a woman who had helped me with something a gift as a thank-you and left with a gift that was more than what I had given her. Which I found a little unsettling at the times, but I think this is in part a reminder that it’s not a trade. There's something in that about how we survive and thrive collectively especially when times are uncertain. It's deep practice of trusting the collective.

        *not better, not worse. Pākehā gifting seems healthy to me too. People who take things as gifts when visiting others.

        • gsays 8.1.1.1

          At the risk of blundering into a cultural minefield, that sounds like it is related to utu. Reciprocation rather than revenge.

          As to the power of collective, there are precious few opportunities to experience it. The folk protesting mandates, passports, exclusions etc will be gaining strength from their congregations. Further emboldened by every outraged reaction.

  9. Hunter Thompson II 10

    I see that yesterday's Stuff carried a scaremongering opinion piece from a farming sector dude. She seemed to be implying that fewer cows on the land would mean higher food prices – it was the bog-standard "economy or the environment" argument, but dressed up.

    The Guytons' scheme gives the lie to that.

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