As I watched a display of feijoas languishing in my local fruit shop, a couple of things crossed my mind. One was that while New Zealand has the world’s largest commercial production of feijoas, it has something else that is far more valuable in many Kiwi hearts: a “green market” if you like, a cottage industry, a backyard operation.
With ageing trees in many a garden along with neighbourhood hedges and windbreaks, feijoas were (and still are) plentiful and mostly for free. Sure, there were roadside stalls and kids selling bags out front for a couple of dollars, but you never got them from the supermarket.
It was more about neighbours dropping boxes and bags on the front porch, “raiding” a local tree, sharing feijoa crumble with family, scoffing bags at a time, and a bottling and preserving frenzy come autumn. I’m guessing it’s a sub-culture, a tribe, a community – all built around a funny little green fruit.
In Australia, there is none of that. There is quite simply no profusion of trees, and growers have a finite number of options for getting their fruit to market. And these other things crossed my mind:
- Most Australians have no idea what a feijoa is – the staff in my local fruit shop hadn’t even tried them. (Hopefully they might have now after my little marketing spiel.)
- Most kiwis living in Australia are reluctant to pay $1.65 to $2 each. Head over to Facebook’s feijoa page and listen to the grumbling.
- My local garden centre and my child’s preschool both have feijoa trees, but neither have fruited since I’ve noticed them.
- I was astounded and delighted to see feijoas at a very reasonable price (10 for $2) in my local greengrocer. When I went back to buy $20 worth two days later, the price had jumped to 99c each. I walked out empty-handed and grumbling, sad that they were just going to waste.
I know it’s early days and the business model by necessity has to be different. But there is absolutely no marketing of feijoas in Australia, and the crowd who are already converts are resistant to buying them when they are packaged as just another really expensive exotic fruit, along the lines of figs and persimmon.
So bring on the fruiting of my trees, when I can have my own little feijoa-fest, share bags with my friends, and enjoy a crazed bottling fest – and get into the true spirit of feijoa devotedness. In the meantime, it may just have to be another shot of feijoa vodka.