These days it's not just what's on your plate that matters - it's where it came from. Rebecca Malcolm looks at the increasing trend
Belinda Bennett is seeing a change in Rotorua.
She's witnessing people trading the trolley for a spade when it comes to getting their fruit and veges for dinner, and those not so green-fingered taking to the community to source locally grown and organic produce.
Then there are the trades going on in the community - swapping the piles of excess tomatoes for the lemons going begging on the neighbours tree.
It is all a move towards people demanding local and real food - a worldwide trend that Rotorua seems to be embracing.
People are getting out in their backyards tending to their own little vege plots, communities are embracing the concept of community gardens where entire neighbourhoods or marae groups are harvesting enough to feed their people and those who aren't green-fingered themselves are making an effort to find out where their food comes from, and the more local it is, the better.
A firm believer that food heals, Belinda has built her business around the skyrocketing demand for people to get their hands on locally grown, good quality kai.
It's so great that she is about to open up a raw food cafe and move her organic food shop, GoRaw, to a bigger location to meet the demand. Part of it will be allowing excess food to be traded. They will also be taking food that might otherwise go to waste and bottling or preserving it, giving some back to the grower and selling the rest.
"I think people are being forced to grow their own because of the cost then see the benefits of home-grown."
While always a reasonably healthy eater, it was Belinda's dad being diagnosed with bowel cancer that really prompted the change in looking at what she was using to fuel her body, and where that food came from. He lived three years after diagnosis.
"This is because of him. His last words were if I knew then what I know now life would be different."
She says while health factors are a major drawcard in starting, they notice the difference too.
"There is taste in growing your own."
She says they're struggling to keep up with demand. She says there is definitely a demand for people wanting to know their food is "real".
"It shouldn't be a trend, it should be a lifestyle."
At a community garden level Rick Mansell has seen the change firsthand.
The first year the Linton Park Community Centre started the community garden it was slow growing. Now, three years on 100 of the 106 plots are in use - each allotment tended to lovingly by families and friends who want to get green-fingered.
People are encouraged to give a koha if they can and from there they're able to use their allotment as they see fit.
"Some of them provide food for community kai, some for their families. Others find it therapeutic."
He says the reasons people are turning to growing their own produce are as varied as the people themselves.
Most use the food to feed themselves and their friends and families but Rick says its not uncommon for those visiting the centre to see extra produce like piles of pumpkins or tomatoes going free to a good home.
"I like to think it is part of a transition to people wanting to become more self-sufficient. Some of the others want to be part of a sustainable community."
It's a trend he has seen skyrocket and the community garden is now looking at the longer term future of what they offer - whether that will be more allotments or making a move towards planting fruit trees to create a community orchard where people can go and pick their own.
They also plan to look at focusing on the nutrition side, hosting workshops to delve more into what people can do with their produce.
Educating people is also a priority for Brown Owl Organic, which aims to show people not all vegetables are alike and that there is a healthier, tastier and better way.
The group was set up four years ago, and last year took the step of becoming a not-for-profit incorporated society.
They've got just shy of 100 members who pay a yearly fee which gives them the opportunity to purchase organic products at a cheap rate.
Chairwoman Diana Jones says it all comes down to one thing - people wanting safe, nutritious food.
The hard work is done by a loyal group of volunteers who take orders, source the produce and pack it up ready to be collected at delivery points around town.
Diana says as much as possible they try to source locally grown food, with weekly trips over to Tauranga to pick up other organic crops.
"The aim is eventually to source a lot more local."
She says new nitrogen rules for around Lake Rotorua has seen more people looking at moving away from having stock and switching towards horticulture. "We are hoping in the long term to help connect with them and provide them with a market."
Diana agrees more and more people want to know where the food they are eating has come from, and once they've made the switch she says many never look back. "A lot of our members just want to source healthy food easily. A lot are surprised how cheap they can get it. It's often on a par with non organic."
She says she has seen the results first hand - people who have health problems feeling better once they make the switch.
"A lot of people have had health issues. We are much more aware of our food. Then it tastes a lot better."
It does mean eating more seasonally, but Diana says that is a good thing.
"We want to spread the message to as many people as possible but it is baby steps."
Eventually they'd like to offer sponsored, or subsidised boxes, to those in need.
Dana Thomson, the health improvement advisor for Toi Te Ora - Public Health Service says in a world of pre-packed, ready-made, pre-cooked convenience it is often hard to know exactly how your food made it on to your plate.
"We are seeing more and more people becoming increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it's produced and distributed."
She agrees more and more people are wanting to buy locally and sustainably sourced food. "Overseas we're currently seeing some interesting trends when you look at the proliferation of initiatives like farmers' markets, and their popularity. The number has grown considerably over the last decade. In Rotorua, more opportunities are becoming available for people to buy local and sustainably produced food."
She says they've also seen a range of community gardens crop up in Rotorua where people are growing their own food.
"There is also a number of vegetable gardens operating out of pre-schools, schools and kohanga reo in Rotorua, supporting children to learn where food comes from."
Dana puts it down to the broader social movement that is being called the people's food movement which "is seeing communities around the world driving demand for healthy, sustainable and fair food".
"It's being spurred on by a range of individuals, community groups and organisations, representing a diversity of interests from health, to environmental sustainability, to human rights."
She says people want to be able to access healthy and affordable food easily, and many are increasingly interested in locally produced food.
While the Rotorua Lakes Council doesn't know exactly how many community gardens or maara kai there are, they are involved with helping six on council-owned land, and another 11 on marae, church, school or private land.
The council's sustainability advisor Monica Quirke says the reasons communities want them are really diverse - some are to provide food for communities, others to provide food for foodbanks while some are about organic food and permaculture and others are simply about creating a community hub, a place where people can meet.
"We get about one enquiry a month from enthusiastic gardeners from different community networks looking for a new challenge, opportunities to grow and share food and do something to benefit their neighbourhoods."
She says while the council doesn't set up the gardens, they can be involved with providing advice, support and funding through the Neighbourhood Matching Fund. "But people need to already have support behind them. The most successful have a strong group ready and keen to be involved. A maara kai requires a real commitment - there's a lot of work involved, maintenance and there are ongoing costs. The community tells us maara kai are important and have many benefits - as an important food source, as an activity that brings people together in a safe, nurturing environment, a way to create a hub, an opportunity to get to know and interact with others in a community.
"For some it's also a way to give back and contribute to the neighbourhood ..."