At Christchurch’s Te Pā o Rākaihautū, tamariki play an important role in the development and maintenance of the school’s māra kai, at the same time gaining a profound sense of knowledge of who they are and how they are connected to life in a much broader way. 

According to Te Pā staff member, Oli Peryman, it’s “all about being present and experiencing the māra through their own senses.” He says each week different rōpū participate in garden activities like planting and harvesting, so they start to develop a regular rhythm for connection with the taiao. 

“The key part is getting young tamariki interested and giving them an understanding of how we are all connected and that when we understand māra kai, mahika kai and kā atua, we can relax a bit more about where our next meals are coming from,” he says. 

“At an implicit level, they learn a sense of safety and resourcefulness, and a powerful sense of belonging and meaning; and by the time our newer entrants graduate, they’ve had twelve years’ experience with regenerative māra mahi and that’s an empowering platform for them to take into the future.” 

That is also a key principle behind Kōanga Kai, which was established by Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu to promote kai security by supporting a network of māra kai across Te Waipounamu. With the aim of building healthy, sustainable kai production practices influenced by the traditions and mātauranga of tīpuna, Te Pā o Rākaihautū’s project is very much focussed on achieving food sovereignty within the wider school community. 

“We have a collective of staff and whānau – called Ko Mahi, Ko Ora – which very much aligns with the aspirations of Kōanga Kai, and since we became involved with Te Pūtahitanga a year ago, we have been able to further develop our māra kai and go a long way towards the goal of kai motuhake through our own soil and seed stock development,” says Oli. 

While the school’s gardens have been established for some time, when fulltime staff were not available to work them, groundsman Matua Keith Murphy kept the māra running. Now with the injection of Kōanga Kai funding, the Te Pā māra kai is developing in leaps and bounds. 

Not only is the original garden regularly producing kai for tamariki lunches, staff and school whānau, Te Pā is well on the way to self-sufficiency with their seed saving project and the lease of a further seven hectares of residential red zone land for mahinga kai restoration.  

“Kōanga Kai principles and the development of māra kai are both very much in line with Te Pā’s ethos and Te Pūtahitanga’s assistance has given us a real boost towards achieving our aim of kai motuhake. It was the injection of resources we needed to buy us time to get extra people on board and to source equipment and seedlings. 

“Their aspirations are consistent with our own and their assistance has gone a long way towards us being able to actualise our goals. We are passionate about getting whānau involved too and although Covid has presented us with some challenges, we are committed to the long-term development of our māra kai and our seed library, which in turn can support others beyond the Te Pā gates.”