22 May 2020

Feilding comes alive

From Country Life, 9:42 pm on 22 May 2020

Feilding on Fridays is usually bustling. Out-of-towners mingle with the locals at the farmers' market in the square and farmers and tourists rub shoulders at the stock sales in the historic yards down the road. But like everywhere these last few weeks, this rural centre has been shuttered and silent.

Sally Round popped in last Friday, after the Covid-19 lockdown was lifted, and found it had sprung to life again with a few restrictions. Wendy Carr was on the gate at the farmers' market, making sure people stuck to the rules.

Having the courage to sell hard over the internet has helped a Manawatu cheesemaker survive over the lockdown.

It's a crowded place and not for the faint-hearted, says Jill Walcroft of Cartwheel Creamery.  

She was among two dozen artisan food producers and growers chomping at the bit to greet customers in the flesh when Feilding's farmers' market opened after the Covid-19 lockdown was lifted.

Sales of her hand-made cheese were down 90 percent when markets closed, cheese fairs were cancelled and restaurants remained shuttered over the period.

"We had a chiller full, like really full, of cheese so (to say) we were slightly concerned is a Kiwi understatement," she said.

But the husband and wife team, based in the Pohangina Valley, used the lockdown to prepare their online shop for sales soon after Easter and made a push with a gift box for Mother's Day.

Selling hard online is not her forte, she admitted.

"You just have to have the courage and post and post and post," she said.

They also turned to a business mentor for support and they're getting advice to plan for the future.

"When you're a husband and wife business, you feel a bit isolated so it's really been a good idea to reach out."

"Our challenge now is to keep that going."

Wholegrain Organics, a paddock to plate food producer and cafe in Palmerston North, found business "ballooned" during the lockdown because they had a well-established online store.

They picked up new customers from all over New Zealand for their products which include stone-ground flour.

"We couldn't mill it fast enough," said Wholegrain Organics stallholder Frederick Kretchmer who felt like he was having a bit of a break at the market.

"We did a lot of deliveries and our business was actually amplified, so being at the market today is like a day off," he said, laughing.

"There's definitely a feeling of people wanting to buy local and support local," said Joe McMenamin who was at the market to pick up a coffee before opening up his art gallery for the first time since lockdown was lifted.

The market was less bustling than normal with stalls having to be spaced further apart, only one entry and exit, hand sanitiser to wipe on and forms to fill in.

Despite smaller crowds than usual, the Tamim family were happy to be back at their stall selling Palestinian and Syrian food.

They tempt customers with wafting aromas from a sizzling pan of falafel.

Face to face contact is important for them but they have recently ventured on to Facebook to sell their products.

Ala Tamim described the lockdown as a "big storm" for the family.

"Our food is new here in this area and it's really difficult to get people (to) take the risk and try it," he said.

Moving online has shown them there is another way to sell their cuisine but there's nothing like being back at the market, engaging with their customers.

"You can't imagine how happy we are," he said.