When Te Puni Kōkiri started funding the Māra Kai initiative in 2009, it aimed to boost the level of involvement by Māori into community gardening projects that were intended to produce health, financial and social benefits.
Māra Kai is one of Te Puni Kōkiri’s three Whānau Social Assistance Programmes - the other two are Kaitoko Whānau and Oranga Whānau both of which also began operating in 2009. Māra Kai was also one of a number of projects supported by the Māori Economic Taskforce.
Initially, small one-off funding grants of up to $2,000 were available for marae, kōhanga reo, schools and Māori communities to meet the set up and operational costs of gardens, including garden construction, purchasing of tools and equipment and seeds. Te Puni Kōkiri also provided project guidance and advice, where required.
In its first year, 278 Māra Kai were established across the 10 Te Puni Kōkiri regions. This year, after adopting a new approach to funding, it is anticipated that 300 Māra Kai will receive assistance with more than $700,000 funding.
One of the East Coast success stories involves “Supergrans” from Te Tairāwhiti who received $25,000 to work with Te Hāpara Whānau Aroha Centre.
This whānau Māra Kai model is targeting 10 whānau through an early childhood education centre for single mums. Supergrans is a group of experienced volunteers, offering practical tuition in household management.
Te Whānau Aroha is an early childhood education centre, where whānau support workers work closely with young mothers and their children.
The two organisations work together to offer practical guidance in household management. On 1 November 2011, these organisations launched the opening of their main Māra Kai at Te Whānau Aroha in Elgin, Gisborne.
The collaborative project is providing hands on learning to enable the participating young mums and whānau to learn about creating their own Māra Kai at home. The Supergrans are also providing food budgeting services with the produce from these māra. The intention to address several issues through this one initiative seems to be working.
In the south, Te Pura o Te Rangi Charitable Trust, have established a sustainable, community garden that involved more than 30 members of their extended whānau.
They started with a whānau hui to plan the gardens for their papakainga including drawing up a full site plan, agreeing what to grow, what were the best planting times and agreed dates for whānau working bees.
In the raised garden beds with borders that included weaving willow branches taught to the kids by mum, the whānau’s planting included corn, kamokamo, Māori potatoes, silver beet, broccoli, spring onions and 12 fruit trees to establish their own orchard.
Te Pura o Te Rangi Charitable Trust
When asked what they are learned through their Māra Kai project; the whānau reported that: “We all learnt about our own land, what grows well here and doesn’t; when things should be planted; how they need to be looked after, when they will be ready for harvesting. This is just the beginning for us, we intend to carry on this year and start looking at establishing our own rain water storage for watering our gardens, looking at glass houses for protection from the severe elements down here and building more gardens.”