LOCAL produce is needed urgently to meet the growing demands of some 85 retailers and/or restaurants who have signed on to Northern Rivers Food Links distribution project.
In particular, Food Links is looking for growers of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes and/or onions.
Regional project officer for NRFL Jane Laverty said the organisation’s surveys and meetings with retailers/restaurants had established a high demand for Northern Rivers produce.
She said aside from restaurants and small “mum and dad” retailers, several IGAs (independent grocers) had already signed up for regular supply and NRFL was in promising discussions with Coles and Woolworths.
“When IGA stores sign food as being grown on the Northern Rivers, the produce sells much faster than other produce,” Ms Laverty said.
“Consumers are becoming much more discerning, they’re asking ‘is it local? how far has it travelled?’,” she said.
The NRFL was working on an “intra-region distribution model” with wholesale distributor Frutos and charity, House with No Steps.
“We are trying to address the problem of local food going out of the region and local retailers getting products from outside areas.
For example, look at avocados – we have so many growers but people are buying avocados from north Queensland, which is not logical, it’s crazy.”
Ms Laverty said one of the challenges NRFL faced was finding a market for all of a farmer’s produce.
But, she said, the project had reached a stage where that was happening.
“We call the retailer, tell them what’s available, they place an order and it’s delivered,” she said.
Retailers can contact NRFL through its website ( www.northernriversfoodlinks.com.au) to register their produce needs.
Ms Laverty said NRFL were working with growers market’s throughout the region to create central points from where it could distribute food to retailers and restaurants.
Another impressive project from NRFL is the Sustain Food website ( www.sustainfood.com.au) which has an expansive database of Northern Rivers food producers listed by produce type.
Producers can go onto the site and register themselves with more than 100 producers, growing everything from lentils to organic beef.
In other NRFL news, the 12-week Grow Your Own project has been launched again for Autumn 2011.
The spring 2010 project saw 521 registered garden plots covering a total of 6212 sq m. .
Also, a Northern Rivers Sustainable Agriculture Forum will be held on Wednesday, May 4 in Maclean.
It is an opportunity to share knowledge with industry experts and learn about on-farm showcase models for more sustainable food production.
Key speakers include Greg Reid (Industry & Investment) and Stuart Larsson (Mara Seeds).
The event is free, however attendance is strictly by RSVP as catering will be provided. To RSVP email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Nyree on 0434 261 070.