28 November, 2011

Sewing and reaping

Mr Fothergills - an Australian seed retailer - has an 'ad' in this month's Gardening Australia magazine. I put ad in inverted commas as it's quite clearly designed to look like an article, with no branding on the page but plenty of text.

The text focuses on two things: that Australians, on average, don't eat enough vegetables; and that part of the reason for that is their high cost. The ad claims '5 daily serves of vegetables for a family of four can average well over $1,000 a year'. The alternative, of course, is to grow one's own, and to that end the ad contains a table listing half a dozen of Mr Fotherfill's seeds, their estimated yield and the cost per kilo of yield, versus the average supermarket price of the same product.

I'm a strong believer in urban sustainability, growing your own, locavorism etc. But I'm surprised to see a company that ostensibly shares the same values presenting such a biased version of cost. First of all, I don't think $1,000 a year, for four people, is too much to pay for vegetables. Secondly, why do vegetables have to be 'cheap'? I think this is a great misnomer of our time, the cost of fresh produce. People are rejoicing that bananas are back down to $2 a kilo. Remember when they were more than $15? It was terrible!

Well, it was frustrating that a couple of bananas cost several dollars, but a cyclone had wiped out an enormous portion of supply. Lower supply + same demand = high prices. It's really simple market economics. And, frankly, I think $2 a kilo is an absurdly low price for a weighty product that doesn't grow within a thousand or more kilometres of Melbourne.

As Alla Wolf-Tasker - chef extraordinaire at the Lake House - says, 'There is no such thing as cheap food'.

A part of the marketing strategy for many supermarkets is advertising products that cost less than they did a year ago. I've always found that a bit strange, and the message I get from it is that we can't take their word on what a product 'costs'. Fresh produce should not sit at a fixed price. We should not expect to always be able to get apples for $6 a kilo or tomatoes for $4. We recognise that with the products that are still acknowledged as seasonal - mangoes, grapes, berries etc. But it goes for all of them.

Mr Fothergills does have a point though. Even though they ignore the cost of potting mix, plant food etc in their pricing of produce grown from their seed, at least a vegetable grown in your backyard demonstrates a truism more certain than market economics - you get out what you put in.

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