healthy families kids growing vegetables

Our vision: Lower Hutt – NZ’s healthiest people

Rangatahi working together to restore the taiao

Reconnecting with Te Taiao is one of the outcomes from Fruit Trees 4 Marae, a co-designed initiative to learn how to kaitiaki gifted fruit trees.

It all started with the gift of fruit trees from a local benefactor. The trees were shared out between schools, community organisations and local marae across the Hutt Valley.

Te Ara Whānui Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Kōhanga Reo o Te Awa Kairangi received some of the donated trees and reached out to Mervyn Johnson a local horticulturist to help maintain these rākau.

Merv started working with Te Ara Whānui Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Kōhanga Reo o Te Awa Kairangi to establish a small school orchard. Over time, Merv shared his skills and knowledge on more than just fruit trees. With help from the tamariki they built gardens and together used the maara to learn about the role Papatūānuku earth mother has to our wellbeing.

“Our kura was designed to underpin Te Taiao, it is about our connection between our whenua, where we stand, what we put on top of it and what we do with that. Te Taiao is a really important kaupapa for us in that it is about keeping our environment clean, healthy, inviting and exciting,” says Kararaina Luke, Tumuaki of Te Ara Whānui Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Kōhanga Reo o Te Awa Kairangi.

“The results were amazing, abundant fruit and vege for the tamariki to enjoy and many lessons to learn about how we interact with nature”.

Merv at Kura 027 compressed and resized

Meanwhile, donated fruit trees that were planted in community spaces in the Lower Hutt suburb of  Wainuiomata without clear kaitiaki weren’t flourishing the same. Often they were damaged by young people who didn’t know or understand what they could offer the community.

Turning this around was a challenge taken up by the Ohomauri Collective. A group of community champions, local Marae members, Healthy Families Lower Hutt staff, Te Aho Turoa kaimahi, and Hutt City Council staff that work collectively to achieve positive changes in the community. The Ohomauri Collective co-designed the “Fruit Trees 4 Marae” initiative as a way of nurturing the gift of trees while reconnecting the generations back to the land that is so important in Te Ao Maori.

Fruit Trees 4 Marae is a series of seasonal hands-on workshops led by Merv Johnson, supported by Healthy Families Lower Hutt for members of local marae and rangatahi groups, to learn how to care for their trees and maara. Incorporating kaitiakitanga into these workshops is also a key focus of the initiative.

With over 30 people from three generations attending the workshops so far, they’ve learnt the basics of fruit tree maintenance like planting and pruning. Each of the four marae involved can also call on Merv for help and advice between the seasonal workshops.

Koraunui Marae FruitTrees 4Marae compressed and cropped

For Renee Davies who leads the TiHei Rangatahi group based in Wainuiomata, the workshops were an opportunity to learn skills she can then pass on. “We’ve got a regular group of rangatahi who participate in our maara work. They clear garden beds, plant seedlings and look after the shared garden space. We’ve taken over being kaitiaki of the trees in on our main street because they weren’t thriving. Next on our list is to re-establish the glass house next to Whai Oranga Medical Centre where our gardens are. We can then grow from seed and share and swap the seedlings with the other marae and community groups involved in Fruit Trees 4 Marae.”

Briar Kopa from Kōkiri Marae based in nearby Seaview is also supporting a rangatahi group to establish kumara beds in the same shared garden space.

“Being able to call on Merv to help us plan our gardens and work out what will work in our specific spaces is a huge help. Once we know the plan then we can get on and do it ourselves,” says Renee Davies.

“I’m hoping that as the gardens and fruit trees start to flourish that we can use the garden space as a place for our rangatahi and their whānau to enjoy. We can fire up the bbq and the young ones can go and pick our salads straight from the gardens.”

“TiHei Rangatahi currently benefits from rescue food deliveries from Kaibosh. I’m looking forward to future seasons where we will be able to give back to all the groups that have supported us by sharing our surplus fruit and vege.”

Beyond fruit trees and vege gardens TiHei Rangatahi have a kaitiakitanga programme that includes monitoring local rivers, collecting water samples and testing the health of our awa. “We’re also using a Curious Minds contract to build stronger connections with the role our awa has in our community. We’re interviewing our kaumatua to find out more about their relationship with the river, it is only a generation ago when it was safe to swim and collect kai. The relationship our rangatahi have with the river is very different, they barely walk near it and swimming isn’t even considered.”

“All these connected activities are making an impact on our rangatahi. We follow atuatanga which is looking to our different Māori gods and how their qualities relate to the world today. Now when our young people see something like litter or even the smoke from fireworks, they know that isn’t good for Papatūānuku and Ranginui.”

“Our rangatahi realise that we created the problems with our taiao, and know that we are also the solution.”

Fruit Trees 4 Marae and the ripples of activity that have come from the Ohomauri relationships are a great example of community co-design. The group identified an issue and together created a solution that delivers many benefits to all the individuals and organisations involved. Healthy Families Lower Hutt is proud to have been able to support the initiative with some funding and coordination of the workshops and Merv’s time.

Pēhea mehemea…

Every community had an abundance of fresh fruit and vege, that growing and sharing kai is just how we do things in the Hutt.

Through our rangatahi the whole community restores our relationship with our taiao.

He aha he mahi māu?