Tim Walker’s Sprawl

Auckland city’s continued expansion could soon mean the end of New Zealand’s bountiful horticultural industry, leading to the importation of our fresh produce.

With each housing development around Auckland, a little more of the nation’s most valued agricultural land is being lost…

To urban folk looking to become a part of the Super City of Auckland this might seem a trivial issue; to the nation’s market gardeners whose life is the land, and who just happen to be situated on some of the most productive land in the country, this is everything.

…In Pukekohe, home to an abundant variety of soil found across just five percent of the country, growers have for years been witnessing these fertile lands being encroached upon by the sprawl of Auckland housing development…

The fact that more houses need to be built in and around Auckland is not up for dispute, nor is the fact that building more houses would go some way to reducing the ever-climbing cost of those houses; what is bound to be up for dispute however is the question of whether Kiwis are willing to essentially exchange astronomical house prices for a similarly ridiculous rise in the cost of living – which is the likelihood if New Zealand is no longer able to maintain its self-sufficiency thus has to import the bulk of its fresh produce at a much greater expense.

…Housing minister Nick Smith believes that existing landowners are ‘quite capable of making the decision’ of whether to sell their blocks to the farmers, or to make way for additional housing development by subdividing their land; although when the vendor’s financial gain for subdividing is threefold what the growers would be expecting to pay, in this money-driven world it doesn’t really seem to be much of a decision at all…

It is easy in the current economical climate for one to become fixated on Auckland’s so-called housing crisis, while overlooking the fact that this ‘housing crisis’ is in no way the only issue in New Zealand; farmers – who before tourism took off were the backbone of this nation and who continue to play a vital role in upholding the economy – still have a livelihood to maintain.

…To some – less informed, more ignorant – city-dwellers the term ‘farmer’ is synonymous with ‘wealth’, ‘greed’, or ‘lifestyle’; when realistically, as I have seen firsthand, ‘farmer’ is more akin to terms such as ‘little expendable cash’, ‘hard work’, ‘long hours’ and particularly, ‘no weekends’. The further misguided belief that farmers have little regard for ecology and that they exploit the land for their gain is simply preposterous…

Farmer’s are the caretakers of the land and, unlike housing production where ‘the land’ will be largely forgotten in place of the dwellings under which it rests, so long as it’s under the care of a horticulturalist that land will only ever be improved.

…Without doubt this area of unusually fecund land around Pukekohe would be infinitely better suited to be growing New Zealand’s future in agriculture than it would be growing lawn grass yet, when a significant portion of our population is crying foul over Auckland house prices, foresight and indeed rationality is easily overlooked.

Ultimately, in order to make room for new residents and the houses they will require, Auckland Super City does need to continue to expand; ideally though it would do so over less productive land than it is currently attempting to sprawl.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Val U Abel

Photography by Patch O Lund

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