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.

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
The Bush Fairy Dairy is located at Peria on Oruru Road, about halfway between Taipa on the northeastern side of New Zealand's North Island and Kaitaia on the western side.

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.

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
The deck to the side of the Bush Fairy Dairy acts as a public gathering space for the whole region.

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
This is the definitive Bush Fairy.

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
The fairy is painted with care and precision.

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
When approaching the shop from the east, this is the sign that you see. (See the little gnome at the bottom?)

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
When approaching from the west, the sign features different colours.

Beryl Panther, Apil 2012
In April 2011, Beryl bought out the last remaining co-op partners (and the shop's debt) and is now the sole owner of the Bush Fairy Dairy. She says that the enterprise retains the same feel as the co-op because of the five workers who manage shifts at the shop.

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!

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
While the Bush Fairy Dairy stocks a range of mainstream products, Beryl says that she's not trying to compete with the bigger supermarkets and is simply providing these items as a service to the local community.

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!

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
Most of the fresh produce stocked is organic and spray-free, locally grown in season.

Ice cream at the Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
The Organic Omaha and Rush Monroe ice cream is probably the most popular item sold in the dairy.

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.

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
The shop stocks a wide range of bulk organic dry foods, encouraging people to bring their own containers for refilling.

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
A range of guitar strings, essential oils, potions, balms, candles, books and incense is also stocked.

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.”

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
Locally-made crafts are also kept in stock, providing an eclectic range of gifts, clothes and homewares.

Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
Beryl likes to encourage the deck to be used by whoever needs to get out of the house. "They don't even need to buy anything!" she says.

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.

Whare paku at the Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
The whare paku (outside toilet) is decorated with kitschy flowers (lest you forget that you're visiting the Bush Fairy Dairy)!

Op boxes at the Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
Boxes of clean, unwanted clothing and household goods are left below the community noticeboard. This unofficial, free "op shop" is always a delight to browse through. While we've been staying next door to the dairy, we've noticed that the items in the boxes change daily with new arrivals and quick departures.

Brownies at the Bush Fairy Dairy, April 2012
My own personal favourite item for sale.

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!