I’ve always found farmers strange, probably in common with many city dwellers. Their professed love of animals, like giving cutesy names to various calves and lambs for example, counterpointed by their casual attitude to slaughter. Their professed love of the land which they then strew with rusting farm junk while letting their run-off pollute the nation’s rivers. Their professed importance as ‘backbone of the economy’ while being first in line for government subsidies.
Planes are full of NZ farmers in our winter, heading off to Europe for their annual holidays. Privileged? Never.
In the last few years, more things have been added to my list of things to dislike about bloody farmers. For example, every winter turns out to be too wet or too cold, every summer too warm and too dry. I know I’m just an ignorant townie, but I honestly thought that’s what differentiated those seasons. Apparently not. Also, I assumed farmers would have at least some little experience of dealing with these conditions but no: every few months it’s yet another surprise at what the season once again delivers.
Europe has been a revelation. For one thing, the Dutch are very proud of their intensively farmed green spaces. They are surprisingly attractive, despite centuries of farming. And there are legions of wind turbines supplanting the national grid – sustainably and with no pollution. They are mesmerisingly attractive, actually, to anybody with any sensibility.
In New Zealand, our farmers feel free to pollute the land and the food they produce on it with pesticides, and with their cast-off junk, illegal landfills and their redneck attitudes, yet set up a most unseemly braying at the prospect of wind turbines as being ‘destructive to the landscapes’. This is nothing but *asinine (*good agrarian word, there).
But there’s worse. I lived on the Continent for three years in the 1980s. European fruit and vegetables often looked perfect but were mostly pretty devoid of flavour. At least they were cheap.
Not any more – they are still cheap, but bursting with flavour. I realised with a shock how tasteless and poor New Zealand produce has become. (I can’t talk about meat – I don’t eat it.)
Remember that perfect peach you had when you were a child, full of taste, the juice rich and laden with fragrance? I haven’t had one in 20 years – until Rotterdam, of all places (it’s a huge industrial port town) and again in London last month. Crispy apples sharp and sweet, piles of aubergines, delicious beans and lots more.
Kiwis, we pay too much for vastly inferior food. The fruit is often still cold from the freezers when you buy it, and it’s second grade at best. Everyone knows what refrigeration does to flavour. Is it really necessary inside New Zealand? It didn’t used to be.
The worst thing is, food production is pretty much all we have to distinguish ourselves in the world. New Zealand has an incredibly enviable geographic position, with a surfeit of arable land and water. Yet this appears to be squandered on … what, exactly? We produce huge quantities of produce which is then difficult to afford. What’s going on?
Why are farmers holding us and the government to ransom, peddling us their inferior products on the home market at inflated prices?
Oh yes: because they are the backbone of the country and firm New Zealand patriots. Like seasons to farmers, patently, I just don’t get it.