Alongside tourism, farming is another major economic force in New Zealand. Lots of land,
water, sun and what seems like a good dose of old-style, honest and not-
as-industrialized approach to farming, made us appreciate it all the more.
Did you know? There are 31 million sheep in New Zealand. There are 4.4 million people in New Zealand. This means that there are 7 sheep per person. If you think that’s a lot, it is nothing compared to 30 years ago, when there were 22 sheep per person! (source – this amusing article by the New Zealand Department of Statistics). So yes, all the sheep jokes you may have heard about New Zealand are probably true, and we did see a lot of sheep, sometimes in unexpected places.
Grazing sheep and cows have the most beautiful grasslands (often overlooking the most amazing views), and the grass must grow like crazy with all the rain here. In many of the places we stayed we saw coops, where free chickens lay eggs. Unlike the USA’s “free range chicken” cynical definition, these chickens are really free and proud, and are surprisingly smart and funny animals to interact with. (N’s comment – their eggs are delicious, too :))
Some farmers sell their produce from the back of their trucks, and they are happy
to talk about the pesticides they use (mostly, they don’t) and the fertilizers
they add. Many times, a “fruit shop” is just a stall or a cabinet along the road,
with bagged produce and a price list. It’s the “honesty system” – take what you want, put the money into the box, and drive on. Other farmers participate in one of the numerous farmers markets taking place at least once a week.
Even the supermarkets here get something right – we regularly buy lettuces so fresh that their stem is still wet. Prices can be ridiculously expensive though, so we try to buy everything we can at the farmers market. Summer, fresh produce, reasonable prices, yum!