Working around COVID-19 pandemic restrictions proved to be a challenge for Waikawa Marae in 2021, as they set about expanding their existing māra kai but now, withthe fundamentals in place,” they are beginning to see the benefits of their participation in the Kōanga Kai initiative through Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu. 

Marae Coordinator, Renee Love (Te Ātiawa, Ngāi Tahu), says whānau were challenged by COVID-19 restrictions in 2021 and the māra kai project was not as productive as it could have been 

“This year though, with irrigation and garden beds in place, and most of our expansion completed, we plan to build on everything we’ve achieved to date,” she says. 

“We had an existing garden behind the marae, which has always been looked after by Aunty Glenice Paine. That’s still there but during the first round of Kōanga Kai funding, we established more raised beds and a tunnel house in our Kōanga space, and we were also able to provide some whānau with individual home māra, made from mussel floats and premade garden beds.  A lot of our people rent their properties, so the mussel float gardens were a good non-pemanent solution.” 

The expanded garden is now becoming a hub for tamariki reconnecting with the marae and for wider community groups to become involved with marae life. As word spreads of the benefits of being able to pick fresh food from the garden, more whānau are keen to sign up. 

“We have regular visits from school groups from both Waikawa Bay School and Picton School,” says Renee. 

“They have their own school gardens but we also interact. I have visited the schools and they come to the marae to learn about things like composting and making mushroom logs. And we also have seed and seedling planting days.” 

She says interaction with the kura has been one of the major benefits of the Kōanga Kai initiative. 

“It’s enabled a lot of tamariki to reconnect with marae life and it’s been great to introduce all of them to the idea of developing their own sustainable food supply at such a young age.” 

Marlborough District Council has also funded the local EnviroHub group, who are interested in growing their seedlings in the marae tunnelhouse until their own is established; and the marae has engaged with Marlborough Food and Plant Research, who are keen to be involved in some way. 

“They are considering the possibilities of helping us rejuvenate our orchards – adding things like fruit and nut trees –  but that is all still in discussion,” Renee says. 

“We do have big plans and now that we have established the fundamentals, we are keen to focus our second round of Kōanga Kai funding on further expansion of the raised beds and hosting more wānanga. 

“We want to be much more hands-on this year and more focussed on maramataka and the Māori lunar cycle of planting. That was one thing in particular that our whānau felt was really important. 

She says it has been amazing to watch whānau develop both the marae and their own māra kai and to achieve a more sustainable food supply.  

“In addition, the marae has been able to connect with and build new relationships with other community groups – and that’s just in our first year, so who knows how we’ll develop from here. It’s exciting and we certainly couldn’t have achieved any of it without this amazing Te Pūtahitanga initiative.”