Written in the Green Grocer stars.

Close up of Jesse Herbert standing inside Freshlink Grocer.

Jesse Herbert

Jesse Herbert knew from age 18 that he would become a Green Grocer – no question. Fast forward to now, he is the proud owner of Freshlink Grocer and co-owner of Dripping Bowl food trailer – two Wānaka institutions bursting full of heart and bringing the good food to the people. We caught up with Jesse to hear about his journey…

Words by: Sophie Morris

Photography by: Nancy Zhou

What is your food story?

 I had a deep connection to food as a really young person. Born in Taranaki, I grew up on a remote east coast station in North Wairarapa where I was homeschooled for my early years. In a family of 7, food was abundant and we all chipped in to make it. Our fridge was full of raw milk from our house cow Daisy (which mum made into cream, butter, cheese), the winter preserves room was floor to ceiling with apricots, stewed apples, pickles and jams and with more than 5000 animals on the station I could hang and butcher a sheep by age 12.  Our veggie garden was bigger than most house sections in modern subdivisions… and this is without mentioning the hunting, fishing and diving going on by someone in the family at any given moment. 

When my parents bust and we moved to the city, I suddenly clicked at how rich we were growing up. We never had anything flash and the olds were in debt to the farm, but we had a connection to the land and every type of food that we could source from it. It was as if we never had to learn anything – we just grew up doing it. Then suddenly, all of that was gone and I realised how the rest of NZ was eating. By the time I hit my first year at Uni (and spent every moment of every summer working in the king country woolshed’s and a presser and budding shearer), I had already drawn up my first food market business plan. Looking back now, everything led me perfectly to Freshlink. 

Why Wānaka?

 For Dripping Bowl we needed a climate that was both hot and cold – hot for smoothies and buddha bowls in summer, and cold for soups and bone broth in winter. But really, come 28 I had only been to the South Island for a few visits, so it was mostly about getting to know every corner of Aotearoa. 

Where did the names Dripping Bowl and Freshlink Grocer come from?

 Freshlink started as a school economics project by a student at Mount Aspiring College. I love that it perfectly represents what we are trying to do by decreasing the distance between producer and consumer. A traditional grocer is the person who connects the two – proudly representing those who put their heart and soul into their food and proudly nourishing local families. The name Dripping Bowl represents abundance. People often think healthy food is expensive and small, but our meals are lush and overflowing. 

What is the ethos that underpins Freshlink Grocer and Dripping Bowl?

 Wholefoods. Modern marketing has corrupted this word, but it is really very simple. Wholefood is just food. I think the best word to use is “kai”. You know it when you see it. If I rack up a pile of  anti-caking agents, sulphites and aluminium powder and said “dinner’s ready”, you would look at me and say “that ain’t kai brother!”. Then why is it all through your table salt, apricots and baking powder! If it isn’t kai, it doesn’t get through the doors. 

 If you are eating at Dripping Bowl or shopping at Freshlink Grocer it doesn’t matter if you are vegan, keto, paleo - we do everything, and simply focus on good food. Everything we stock or sell is carefully considered at every level – if it has one ingredient that isn’t a wholefood it won’t get through the doors. We are always putting community and environment first with wholefood products that are as organic, local and sustainable as possible. At Freshlink you can put anything in your basket and it will be good for you. It is that simple.

What’s your favourite thing about what you do?

 When people eat our food, we know it is doing good for our community and our environment. Even if they don’t know that, and just come in and have a good time, we have done our job perfectly. Like how we gathered and created food on the farm as kids, we never ‘learnt’, it just was. Our generation doesn’t need to walk around feeling the heavy guilt that we are a drain on community and environment. If you come to Freshlink and Dripping Bowl you can walk away light. 

What keeps people coming back?

 Our support and promotion of our local suppliers. Knowing that when they shop at Freshlink, some of that likely goes to a family in this community, with a child in the same school as theirs. 

What are you most proud of?

Number one is our staff and crew – I am constantly floored by their energy and interest. A close second – that almost nothing we do is our own idea or concept – we are simply reconnecting with what our Koro and Kuia used to do. 

 Favourite thing to make?

 A cup of NZ Grown Keri Keri black tea with a dash of Holy Cow Jersey Cream from Dunedin. 

Best piece of food advice?

Use your senses. Smell, taste, touch and inspect your food because it might not be off. We are one of the only species on the planet that don’t instinctually know what not to eat from an early age. We spend most of our time being pushed between well-marketed fad diets and food intolerants, while still smashing the beers, but I believe some of those primate instincts still remain. 

Jesse's Neat Places