Te Waka Kai Ora
Dine out in Hamilton and there's a very good chance you'll be enjoying some of Kaiwaka Riki's gourmet vegetables. And Kaiwaka himself would tell you with an enthusiastic grin that that's not even half the story.
More than 10 years ago, when Kaiwaka was serving time for growing cannabis, he decided to learn how to run a small business and become self-sufficient. On release, with a broken spade and $20 a week from the dole he planted vegetables in a small garden, and to his delight produced hearty vegetables. His whānau agreed that family land could be used for organic gardening and Kaiwaka and his wife Lynne have never looked back. They call themselves Kaiwhenua Organics and now grow about 50 kinds of kai all year round on frost-free terraces overlooking Raglan Harbour.
Kaiwaka is only one of a growing number of gardeners who are turning under used tribal land into flourishing gardens to supply local supermarkets and restaurants and provide healthy kai for their families. Already whānau are being taught the best of organic and Māori gardening pratices and the income stream is returning to the community.
The driving force behind the initiative is Te Waka Kai Ora (TWKO) a national organisation wanting economic, social and health benefits for Māori. TWKO gives its Hua Parakore (pure product) brand award to growers whose land and practices have met tikanga Māori standards. The indigenous brand and methods were recently presented at the global Terra Madre innovative food conference in Italy.
True to TWKO philosophy Kaiwaka and Lynne use rooting kunekune pigs to help clear and fertilise the land for planting. Each of their seven gardens uses 15 tonnes of compost each year, and the couple make their own using a stacking method and manure from the resident horse and chooks. They also make their own seed-raising mix and liquid fertilisers, and save and use their own seed. The only outside input is organic hay for compost and sand from a village relative's backyard, skinks eat the bugs, companion planting encourages productivity, crops are rotated every four years, planting follows a lunar calendar, and the whole operation uses local climate and landscape to full advantage.