Establishing Māra Kai: A Resource Kit for the Establishment and Management of Māra Kai Aligned to Marae and Communities, is the latest in a series of books published by Tahuri Whenua, the National Māori Vegetable Growers Collective, about traditional and contemporary māra kai practices.
The book includes a Māori calendar, which begins after the first new moon following the appearance of Matariki to guide the best times for planting and fishing.
Dr. Nick Roskruge (Te Atiawa, Ngāti Tama) grew up working in the spud paddocks, now he is teaching Māori communities horticulture. The Massey University Professor and Chairman of Tahuri Whenua runs workshops, provides seeds and supports the growers. For a small outlay Nick says a māra kai can feed the whole whānau.
“Māra kai has become more visible since COVID – people have turned back to homegrown. I want to help educate people to make the information available. There are no books out there like this that comes from a Māori perspective.”
His book provides a step-by-step guide for beginners and experienced gardeners to establish contemporary Māra and offers information about the seasons in the Maramataka Māori calendar.
“For me it’s about independence - so marae can be independent to supply their own hui and tangi and so whānau have the ability to contribute without incurring huge costs,” Nick says.
Through the Tahuri Whenua Trust, Te Puni Kōkiri is supporting 20 māra kai initiatives from Taumarunui down to Levin and provided another 8 groups with seeds and technical expertise. Among the groups are kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa, marae, schools, land trusts, and community groups.
Te Puni Kōkiri regional advisor Cedric Nepia, has had a long working relationship with Nick on the Tahuri Whenua project.
“Here in Whanganui, we have a marae that has transformed its neatly mowed lawns into māra kai. It’s got the whole community motivated. We also have a māra kai with our gang member whānau thanks to the expertise from Nick.”
“We are really pleased with the māra kai project. Many whānau are no longer going to the super-markets, they are eating fresh and healthy kai. School lunch programmes are also benefitting from the kai grown in the gardens,” Cedric says.