Bianca Ranson from Piritahi Marae on Waiheke island.
We’ve all seen the supermarket prices – tomatoes clocking in at almost $10 a kilo, a scruffy head of broccoli stinging you for $4. Even the humble apple comes in at almost $5 a kilo.
With the cost of living soaring many people are looking to ‘grow their own’ when it comes to fruit and vegetables. And while it’s not as straightforward as popping some seeds into the ground, those wanting to make the move could take inspiration from community gardens or māra kai (food gardens).
A shining example is Piritahi Marae on Waiheke Island.
The māra is known for producing around the year and currently growing silverbeet, cauliflower and broccoli.
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Kaingaki māra (gardener) Bianca Ranson says growing food makes sense.
“I went to the supermarket the other day and one cauliflower was $8.50. With our volunteers we can grow those for nothing.”
In summer, tomatoes, cucumbers and corn harvested from the garden are dropped off to local families and kaumātua, and made available through the nearby medical centre.
“In a time of a climate emergency and thinking about our preparedness as a marae and a community it’s one of the most important things we can be doing.”
The māra kai (food garden) has quadrupled in size in the last two years. And it’s providing more than free kai when food prices are sky-high. It’s also been a center for wellbeing and the revival of mātauranga (traditional knowledge) around growing food.
About 200sq m of beds have been added to the māra since April 2020 when it was a small garden out the back of the marae’s wharekai, says Ranson.
During the pandemic the māra became a place for people to connect to one another and to the whenua (land), and to think about kai resilience and resilience. The kai the māra now produces is an added bonus, she says.
“For us, kai sovereignty is the ability to grow what we want, when we want, the way we want. That means providing Piritahi whānau and the wider community with the kai we’re choosing to grow.”
Last summer that included kamokamo, kānga (corn), five varieties of kūmara, and hue (gourds) traditionally used for musical instruments. It’s kai not available elsewhere on the island.
“It shows we don’t need to be reliant on food coming over on a ferry and being trucked into supermarkets. And with the cost of living and the impact that’s having on our whānau, we feel we have a responsibility to make sure our tamariki and our whānau have access to fresh, healthy kai.”