The Bush Fairy Dairy
26 April 12
A highlight of our recent time in the Peria valley has been our almost daily trips to the local corner store, which in New-Zealandish is called a “dairy”. The Bush Fairy Dairy is a local landmark, a communal meeting-space, and a unique business offering a wide range of organic produce and foodstuffs.
Ten years ago, eleven friends decided to form a local shop to promote healthy eating habits. Many of the people were keen organic gardeners who sold produce wherever possible, and they thought that a co-op would benefit the whole community. Monetary profits were never a consideration.
The co-op was formed with $6000 and opened in its current location. Several businesses had previously operated from the premises on Oruru Road, but none had thrived.
Naming the store was a bit difficult. When the names were narrowed down to two: Peria Valley Store and Bush Fairy Dairy, a vote was called, and the results are now historic. Spurred on by monthly meetings to which everyone brought a dish of food to share, the eleven co-op members shared the load at the Bush Fairy Dairy with everyone working half a day.
At the end of 2007, the Bush Fairy Dairy needed to find a new supplier for their tobacco products. This resulted in a spur-of-the-moment suggestion that tobacco products no longer be stocked. “You have to feel good about what you sell,” says Beryl. But she is adamant that the decision was not a judgement against people who choose to smoke tobacco.
The co-op members agreed to trial one month without tobacco or cigarettes, but an eager member called up the local media. Once the Bush Fairy Dairy was featured on national television for its brave move of eschewing the profits of tobacco during an economic downturn, the trial period was abandoned and the new policy was set!
Beryl says that she buys as much as she can on special and those mark-ups provide the profit that pay the wages of her five workers. “It’s important to keep the prices reasonable,” she says. Keeping with the original vision of promoting healthy eating, the Bush Fairy Dairy is always trying to especially support GE-free, New Zealand-made and organic products.
Every spare dollar that the Bush Fairy Dairy gets goes into buying new stock, and Beryl has yet to cover the debts she acquired when she took over the shop — or to write herself a paycheck.
“It’s a wild ride,” she says, laughing. She’s had to learn new skills such as bookkeeping, but Beryl says she is totally supported by her whole family. Her husband Mark helps maintain the grounds.
Beryl is happy to try to source anything that is requested by customers. We discovered this first-hand, when I enquired about my favourite chai drink. Within a week, Beryl had ordered a carton of Celestial Seasonings’ Bengal Spice boxes, with two put aside just for me!
The Bush Fairy Dairy acts as an unofficial post office, collecting mail for postage and also receiving mail for the community. The rural postal delivery man drops parcels off at the shop if he can’t leave them in recipients’ letterboxes. This saves the locals a trip into town.
Beryl is keen to keep encouraging self-sufficiency and stocks local produce as well as the items made by Northland artisans. Recognising the importance of the Bush Fairy Dairy in the community, Beryl encourages community events at the shop.
In the past six months, two market days have been held on the grounds of the dairy. “It rained like crazy,” says Beryl, “but they were still a success.”
With the help of Pedro, the Bush Fairy Dairy is now offering broadband internet to shop customers. Beryl is open to new ideas and is willing to host theme nights, workshops and cooking classes.
Beryl’s latest initiative is to act as a collection point for a raw milk supplier. It’s illegal for her to sell the milk, but she provides fridge space and acts as a go-between for the dairy and the consumers.
The Bush Fairy Dairy is planning a party to celebrate ten years of trading. On Saturday May 12, locals will gather for a shared evening meal, dancing and celebrating.
If you’re in the area, be sure to come by. It’s the party of the decade!