The smallBlock Sunday Seminar held last Sunday in the Waiau Pa community hall was an outstanding success.

The seminar addressed stakeholder interests and wider issues around communities, local economic development and rural living.

For the organisers, the Franklin Branch of the New Zealand Tree Crops Association, the seminar was successfully implemented and resulted in new members signing up.

The seminar presenters each achieved their objective of informing and educating lifestylers, both current or future, about the pitfalls and benefits of owning and operating a small rural block.

For the trade participants, new business was gained and more importantly, exposure of their interesting and varied product ranges was realised.

The major sponsor, Pukekohe based manufacturer Fieldmaster, gained exposure of a varied product range to their target market of small block owners.

smallblock_seminarThe most important stakeholder group at the seminar was of course the attendees. Their feedback indicated a high level of appreciation of the seminars presented and of the opportunity to discuss issues faced over a cup of tea after the seminars.

For me, the day clearly demonstrated two things.

First is the value in bringing like-minded community groups together. Groups like Treecroppers, Beekeepers and Trees for Survival can achieve so much more when working together rather than working in silos.

Second the opportunity to help improve the productivity of small lifestyle blocks, and as a consequence, to improve the lot our urban cousins.

Many lifestyle block owners are actively looking for ways to get more from their small blocks. They hold an important key to address issues like improving community resilience and local economic development.

I have previously criticised the Auckland Plan for putting so much emphasis and resources on developing a Maori culture as a point of difference for the world’s most liveable city-to-be. The challenge is to use those resources to unlock the productive potential that lifestyle block owners hold the key to.

For example, food security and climate change mitigation are planning issues identified by the Auckland Council.

Part of a response to climate change is to sequester carbon in the soil, in the form of biochar, which has the spin-off benefit of improving soil productivity.

Part of the answer to reducing the city’s dependence on external food sources, is to use planning rules to encourage rural productivity improvements rather than limiting the subdivision of productive rural land.

The irony of planning rules that restrict rural subdivision, is that small rural blocks can be more productive than large farms. They also offer more employment opportunities, enable a secure and diverse supply of local food and ensure a vibrant countryside where talent will want to live.

The smallBlock seminar series showed the desire of lifestyle block owners to develop that productive potential. All that is now required is for Councils, both Auckland and Waikato, to rise to the challenge of finding a way to support that desire.