Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Hamilton: Farmers' market

Fieldays is the highlight of the country calendar, as Helen Twose discovers.

Animal, vegetable or mineral, it's all on show at Fieldays. Photo / Jeff Brass
Animal, vegetable or mineral, it's all on show at Fieldays. Photo / Jeff Brass

The massive tractor grinds to a wheel-spinning, mud-churning halt. Watching from the Fieldays grandstand my three-year-old is utterly transfixed. For more than half an hour he's followed the competition in the tractor pull - quite possibly the longest time he has spent sitting still in his short little life.

The mechanical grunt on display is a favourite with the more than 110,000 people who attend the National Agricultural Fieldays at Mystery Creek. Kids also join the action on pedal-powered mini tractors.

Tractor pull committee chairman and one-time competitor Andrew Reymer says for competitors winning is not the be all and end all, even with a motorbike and prize money up for grabs. For the up to 80 entrants it's more about socialising, networking and talking to suppliers.

City and rural people attend the Fieldays to see the latest in agricultural research and technology, talk business, get a deal on anything farm or outdoor lifestyle-related and be wowed by competitive displays of rural skills.

When they were first run in the late 1960s it was seen as a way to bring town and country together to celebrate all things farming.

As a kid, some 20-odd years ago, my enduring Fieldays memories were of sloshing through the mud in gumboots, eating a Murray Grey beef steak sandwich while prime specimens chewed their cud in a pen a few metres away and demonstration tractors being called on to haul cars out of the mud at the end of the day.

Gumboots and tractors are no longer a requirement with paved or gravel roads throughout the venue.

The "paddock to plate" approach to food has also disappeared, replaced with a range of gourmet (and vegetarian) options - everything from snails in garlic butter and the traditional Hungarian street food langos to the more quintessentially Kiwi West Coast whitebait pattie.

Last year as we wandered among the crop cultivation and harvest machinery my son got to sit up high in the cab of a massive tractor. His future ambitions were sealed there and then: "I'm going to be a farmer".

Innovative gadgets that had made the leap from backyard shed to marketplace caught my eye.

A poultry feeder that opened when the chickens stood on a treadplate would be just the ticket for feeding our suburban backyard hens. No more relying on friends and neighbours when we went away if we had one of "Grandpa's Feeders".

Grandpa's Feeders are a classic tale of Kiwi ingenuity. Mark Kirkham says his father (the ex-dairy farming grandpa of the company name) invented them because he was fed up with rats and sparrows eating his chook feed.

After several tweaks and modifications the feeders appeared at Mystery Creek in 1999. Mark sold eight that year but the phone ran hot in the months after. Last year he sold 150 and though he travels to agricultural shows as far afield as Wales, Fieldays is by far the biggest few days of business the mail order company does.

"Mystery Creek is huge for us. There is no other agricultural show that we've ever done that even comes near it. People go there with the purpose of looking for a deal and buying stuff," says Mark.

So with show discounts on offer it's a good time to check out specials on everything farm-related, whether you have a suburban patch or the whole country spread.

TRAVELLERS' TIPS

The New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays are at Mystery Creek, Hamilton, from June 13-16.

With between 20,000 and 30,000 people attending each day traffic into the event can be slow - snacks for the car are a good idea but parking is quick and easy once on site.

Look out for cooking demonstrations by Herald food writer Nici Wickes, wearable Ag Art, fashion shows, vintage tractors and rural skills showcased in the Golden Pliers fencing competition, cowboy-style horse riding, dog trials, wood chopping and chainsaw action and even a game of hoofball (soccer on horseback). Mystery Creek becomes a small town with banking, food, childcare and parents rooms available.

You can buy tickets online: adults $20, children (five to 14 years inclusive) $10; or at the gate (adult $25, child $15).

* Art lovers can head into Hamilton's Art Post Gallery at 120 Victoria Street (07 838 6928) for a great exhibition of the National No. 8 Wire Art Awards. Our nation's iconic material goes high brow.

- NZ Herald

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