Mara kai and permaculture in Whangara

PARADISE: Marie Kingi (left) and Jo Tito at the Whangara mara kai, developed as part of the Kai Oranga programme. Pictures by Michael Neilson
HEALTHY KAI: Ron Taiapa is running the Kai Oranga course in Whangara, where students have developed a mara kai (food garden) and are learning about growing healthy food and Maori tikanga.
Whangara mara kai with the cob oven.
SEED SAVERS: Part of the Kai Oranga course involves collecting seed and storing it for the next growing season.
NATIVES: Kanuka, manuka, karaka, houpara, ngaio, koromiko and many more native seedlings growing in a nursery in Whangara, as part of a project to restore the maunga Pukehapopo.
NURSERY: Whangara resident and former Lytton High School principal Peter Gibson with part of a nursery being developed to restore the maunga Pukehapopo. They are preparing for planting next autumn.
ENVIRONMENT IN HARMONY: Whangara resident and former Lytton High School principal Peter Gibson said the restoration of the maunga Pukehapopo, behind Whangara Marae, was continuing the legacy of the late kaumatua “Papa” Hone Taumaunu. "He said it was really important that tangaroa and papatuanuku were kept in harmony." Picture by Liam Clayton
Whangara mara kai.
Whangara mara kai.
Kumara growing at the Whangara mara kai.

METRES from the shore at Whangara, a mara kai (food garden) has become a focal point for the community.

Traditional Maori staples like kumara and kamokamo, and a range of fruit and vegetables grow abundantly in rich, well composted soil, watered from a bore, powered by the sun.

Since the beginning of September, a group of Kai Oranga students have transformed a green stretch of grass in front of St Patoromu Church into a lush garden.

A nursery in the centre produces thousands of seedlings for the mara kai as well as native trees and plants to restore the sacred maunga (hill) Pukehapopo, rising up behind the marae.

A cob/clay oven is perhaps the most popular feature though, and is used daily by Whangara residents, often preparing meals from the harvest.

The Kai Oranga programme is a joint venture between Whakatane-based Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, and Waka Kai Ora, which owns Hua Parakore, an indigenous food certification system.

The course follows the Hua Parakore textbook, covering permaculture and organic principles, combined with kaupapa Maori.

Each Friday since the beginning of September about a dozen tauira (students) have descended on the mara kai, some from just down the road at Whangara, and others from up the coast at Tolaga Bay, and Gisborne.

Lecturer Ron Taiapa ran the same course in Uawa/Tolaga Bay last year, and decided to run it at Whangara this year after a discussion with resident Peter Gibson.

Mr Gibson mows the church lawns and thought it would be a perfect place for the mara kai.

“The course is for anyone who is interested in gardening, using permaculture and organic principles, but with a Maori flavour,” Mr Taiapa said.

Permaculture

“Permaculture is the idea that plants have multiple uses, such as a herb used as medicine, to repel pests and weeds, make other plants taste good, and look good, so four uses there. The organic side includes companion planting and looking at the soil.

“Kaupapa Maori goes on top of all of that, talking about the mauri (life-supporting capacity) of the soil, following the maramataka (Maori growing calendar), and looking at the whakapapa (ancestry) of kai and rongoaa (medicine).

“That covers not just the handing down of knowledge, but the origin of the seed used and how it has adapted to the environment, saving the seed, and its family history.

“This takes us off the treadmill of always buying seeds and passes into tino rangatiratanga. So in a way, it is a Maori sovereignty programme, through food.”

The taputini cultivar of kumara planted in the mara kai has been passed down from the waka Horouta.

“So you not only reclaim the plant, but the stories as well,” Mr Taiapa said.

They are also growing a variety of popping corn, first planted in the region in the 1860s.

Through the programme students learn about healthy eating and how that related to the kai they are growing.

“We aim to produce nutrient-dense food and track the vitamins and minerals that go into the plants,” Mr Taiapa said.

“Some supermarket bulk potatoes are just white mush, whereas some other varieties, such as jersey benne, or some Maori potatoes, are very dense and high in nutrients.”

The older cultivars tend to be more dense, including some types of kumara.

Hone Taumaunu

The maramataka they used was written by the late Whangara kaumatua, Hone Taumaunu.

“We combine matauranga Maori and tikanga with western science,” Mr Taiapa said.

“Each month we look up the maramataka, and match it with a regional planting calendar, and throw in a bit of biodynamics as well.”

Their teachings follow ture tikanga, including whakawhanaungatanga (kinship) and manaakitanga (caring), and ture tangata, which involves Maori application of new technology and knowledge, alongside traditional values.

“It is a good way for people to get a familiarity with those concepts, in a supportive environment,” Mr Taiapa said.

As part of their assessment the students develop their own mara kai at home and save their own seed, and are encouraged to share what they have learned with the wider community.

Gisborne artist Jo Tito had always been interested in gardening, but wanted to take it to another level.

“This has a good structured environment, and takes us through the whole process. Plus the location is paradise.

“It is also a good way to learn about tikanga, through mahi (work).”

Marie Kingi, who lives down the road and is a teacher aid at Whangara School, is involved in the course to learn to become more sustainable.

“My husband does a lot of hunting, so if I can look after the fruit and vegetable side we could become self-sustainable.

“Having the mara kai here, for the community, is amazing.”

METRES from the shore at Whangara, a mara kai (food garden) has become a focal point for the community.

Traditional Maori staples like kumara and kamokamo, and a range of fruit and vegetables grow abundantly in rich, well composted soil, watered from a bore, powered by the sun.

Since the beginning of September, a group of Kai Oranga students have transformed a green stretch of grass in front of St Patoromu Church into a lush garden.

A nursery in the centre produces thousands of seedlings for the mara kai as well as native trees and plants to restore the sacred maunga (hill) Pukehapopo, rising up behind the marae.

A cob/clay oven is perhaps the most popular feature though, and is used daily by Whangara residents, often preparing meals from the harvest.

The Kai Oranga programme is a joint venture between Whakatane-based Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, and Waka Kai Ora, which owns Hua Parakore, an indigenous food certification system.

The course follows the Hua Parakore textbook, covering permaculture and organic principles, combined with kaupapa Maori.

Each Friday since the beginning of September about a dozen tauira (students) have descended on the mara kai, some from just down the road at Whangara, and others from up the coast at Tolaga Bay, and Gisborne.

Lecturer Ron Taiapa ran the same course in Uawa/Tolaga Bay last year, and decided to run it at Whangara this year after a discussion with resident Peter Gibson.

Mr Gibson mows the church lawns and thought it would be a perfect place for the mara kai.

“The course is for anyone who is interested in gardening, using permaculture and organic principles, but with a Maori flavour,” Mr Taiapa said.

Permaculture

“Permaculture is the idea that plants have multiple uses, such as a herb used as medicine, to repel pests and weeds, make other plants taste good, and look good, so four uses there. The organic side includes companion planting and looking at the soil.

“Kaupapa Maori goes on top of all of that, talking about the mauri (life-supporting capacity) of the soil, following the maramataka (Maori growing calendar), and looking at the whakapapa (ancestry) of kai and rongoaa (medicine).

“That covers not just the handing down of knowledge, but the origin of the seed used and how it has adapted to the environment, saving the seed, and its family history.

“This takes us off the treadmill of always buying seeds and passes into tino rangatiratanga. So in a way, it is a Maori sovereignty programme, through food.”

The taputini cultivar of kumara planted in the mara kai has been passed down from the waka Horouta.

“So you not only reclaim the plant, but the stories as well,” Mr Taiapa said.

They are also growing a variety of popping corn, first planted in the region in the 1860s.

Through the programme students learn about healthy eating and how that related to the kai they are growing.

“We aim to produce nutrient-dense food and track the vitamins and minerals that go into the plants,” Mr Taiapa said.

“Some supermarket bulk potatoes are just white mush, whereas some other varieties, such as jersey benne, or some Maori potatoes, are very dense and high in nutrients.”

The older cultivars tend to be more dense, including some types of kumara.

Hone Taumaunu

The maramataka they used was written by the late Whangara kaumatua, Hone Taumaunu.

“We combine matauranga Maori and tikanga with western science,” Mr Taiapa said.

“Each month we look up the maramataka, and match it with a regional planting calendar, and throw in a bit of biodynamics as well.”

Their teachings follow ture tikanga, including whakawhanaungatanga (kinship) and manaakitanga (caring), and ture tangata, which involves Maori application of new technology and knowledge, alongside traditional values.

“It is a good way for people to get a familiarity with those concepts, in a supportive environment,” Mr Taiapa said.

As part of their assessment the students develop their own mara kai at home and save their own seed, and are encouraged to share what they have learned with the wider community.

Gisborne artist Jo Tito had always been interested in gardening, but wanted to take it to another level.

“This has a good structured environment, and takes us through the whole process. Plus the location is paradise.

“It is also a good way to learn about tikanga, through mahi (work).”

Marie Kingi, who lives down the road and is a teacher aid at Whangara School, is involved in the course to learn to become more sustainable.

“My husband does a lot of hunting, so if I can look after the fruit and vegetable side we could become self-sustainable.

“Having the mara kai here, for the community, is amazing.”

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.