Jade Moana believes food insecurity is Aotearoa’s “gaping wound” and with people are queuing up for food parcels at an alarming rate, she is determined to do all she can to improve things for vulnerable whānau. 

Jade (Ngāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) has built upon her passion for the whenua and gardening and now, with support from our Kōanga Kai initiative, she is building on her twenty years of experience working in social and community services to ensure whānau are healthy, happy and thriving. 

Well-known to many for establishing the highly successful nationwide ‘Handy Over Hundy’ initiative in 2010, the Kākano Cafe in Christchurch (2015-2019), hosting her own show – He Kākano series for Māori TV 2019, and for winning the 2011 New Zealand Gardener of the Year Award and a Silver Award at the 2013 Ellerslie International Flower Show, Jade’s passion centres on encouraging as many families as possible to live off the land and reap the benefits of growing their own food. 

“My own connection to the whenua has strengthened and changed me and I feel very strongly that I have been called to this mahi,” she says. 

“Over the last three years in particular, it’s become very clear to me that we need to support our whānau to develop their own food sovereignty; and with all the lessons we are learning from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s important that we adapt to unpredictability.” 

Jade was contracted to run a Kōanga Kai funded project in Christchurch in June 2021, and after asking for expressions of interest from whānau wanting to establish their own māra kai, she was swamped with 400 registrations on the first day. 

“The demand was overwhelming, and we had to develop a system to see who needed us the most. The commonality of course, was that everyone wanted to learn māra kai skills so they could make their own home garden, so we worked hard and we set up māra kai for 23 whānau.” 

By chance, one of their registrations came from Housing First Christchurch, and after speaking with Housing First representative, Jono Kitt, a new partnership was developed with Jade agreeing to develop nine māra kai for their clients. 

“We’ve set up five gardens for Housing First so far and while Covid has slowed our progress, the response from whānau has been amazing. 

“Housing First services are for chronically homeless people with mental health or addiction issues. They work with other organisations to provide wrap-around support services to help them stay in their homes; and by developing māra kai for them, we’re giving them something to be proud of, something to hope for,” says Jade. 

“Many of their clients also have limited whānau connections, so the māra kai connections  they’ve been able to establish are doubly important. That’s been one of the key benefits of the Kōanga Kai initiative for everyone.” 

Jade says they are now looking to extend their relationship with Housing First –  daydreaming about what comes next – and in addition, she and her husband, Josh Koia  (Ngāti Porou), have established a new consulting entity,Aweko Kai. 

“This continues our focus on Kōanga Kai and creating bespoke māra kai for whānau, businesses and social enterprises. We already have a number of contracts, including one with Home and Families Society, creating māra kai interventions for their young parents’ classes. 

“We’ve done a lot of māra work with solo mothers too and a lot of their feedback indicates that having a home māra kai not only leads to less anxiety about feeding their family, it also gives them a place of solace, a reconnection to the earth and a sense of surety. 

“Our whole kaupapa at Aweko Kai is about encouraging the growing of chemical-free, organic kai and teaching our vulnerable whānau how to be kaitiaki over their kai. It’s about teaching them our traditional Māori gardening practices, cooking techniques and the value of sharing kai with others. 

“There is no other mahi I find more valuable. This is my life’s work and I will never do anything else.”