Michael Parata-Peiffer of Rāpaki is working hard provide whānau within his hapū with māra kai and he’s not doing anything by halves.

As Kaiwhakarite Māra, Michael (Ngāi Tahu), tends the existing marae māra, made up of six raised gardens, each 2 x 2 metres, and he is also working with whānau to re-establish a community māra on the hillside where the community previously grew kai.

Working under the Kōanga Kai banner, Michael is building on his strong belief in the māra gardening traditions of his hapū and the knowledge passed down before the arrival of the first European settlers.

“Ngāti Wheke has a rich history of kai cultivation. In the 19th century, whānau planted wheat, oats, corn and potatoes and traded successfully with whalers at Waitaha (Port Cooper) and Koukourarata (Port Levy); and this whole sunny, hillside area we’re beginning to cultivate now, was previously used to commercially grow tomatoes,” he says.

“The Kōanga Kai kaupapa highlights food security. It’s about connection and community, looking at whakapapa and re-implementing the teachings of our tīpuna. It’s also about hauora – getting people out and about, so they can stay physically healthy. Everyone benefits and we’re all learning as we go,” he says.

The current idea is to create a new enterprise for whānau and to give them a reason to come back home. To that end, Michael is a great supporter of the Kōanga Kai kaupapa and since the relationship began last October, he has established more than a dozen individual whānau gardens. He says many have been “blown away” by what they have been able to produce in their own māra kai.

“Kōanga Kai funding has enabled me to get all the materials I need for establishing whānau garden boxes plus soil and plants. I also provide each whānau with garden packs which include resources around karakia and maramataka. They outline growing with the moon and the different seasons of the Māori calendar. I also supply sunscreen, hats, gloves and some basic garden tools to ensure they have everything they need to get started.”

He says knowing they are eating healthy, organic kai is already helping change whānau lives for the better.

“A number of our whānau have never gardened before and the kaumātua especially have loved being able to feed their mokopuna from their māra. It’s given them a sense of purpose and they’ve often been amazed by how much kai is being produced.”

Michael is also keen to work with tamariki and kura in the future; and he is looking ahead to a time when he can start growing heritage seeds and re-introduce some of the old garden favourites.

He is also currently working with the māra kai collective at Te Pā o Rākaihautū in Christchurch to establish a composting routine for the new māra development at Rāpaki.

“Working with Kōanga Kai has been a very positive thing for Ngāti Wheke and everyone seems keen to live off the whenua again. I look forward to the time when we can all sit down down with our tamariki and mokopuna and enjoy kai that we’ve raised in our own māra kai.

“As Matiu Payne wrote in a whakataukī: ‘Haohia onamata, whakatauria anamata – harvest the past to settle the future.’”