Native plants traditionally used by Māori for kai (food) and rongoa (medicine) are disappearing fast but work is underway to establish a new seed bank and forest garden in Taupō to replace what has been lost.
He Tipu Ltd are redeveloping the abandoned 22ha Taupō Native Plant Nursery site on the outskirts of town to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to those in need and ultimately help people live a more sustainable lifestyle. Over the next six years, a three stage plan will unfold at He Tipu that targets social, environmental and cultural outcomes, with food being just one of many enterprises on site.
One project underway involves gathering a wide variety of seeds from across the country and helping them acclimatise to the altitude and volcanic soils of the Central Plateau. He Tipu General Manager Blandina (Te Wikitoria) Diamond says a forest garden will eventually be planted full of edible native species.
“Māori in particular, traditionally harvested from the bush. So we’re going to help regrow some of those, not only to show people and educate them, but also to source seeds from so we can revegetate areas that may be missing them.”
The seed bank is part of the wider kaupapa the organisation’s sole shareholder, Te Pae o Waimihia, is trying to achieve. “We have this grand bold plan that fruit and vegetables in this country should be accessible to all and be free. Look how much we waste… we produce lots of food for people who live overseas but we can’t feed our own people properly. So that’s one of the things that we want to achieve here.”
“We’ve sown our first 160,000 native plants this year. They’re germinating at the moment and we’ve got our first plants in the ground for kai, and a whole bunch more we want to plant including 30 fruit trees. Before the end of the year we need to put our first round of Māori potatoes in the ground and then we’ll start on our hydroponic food. We’ll be converting a couple of the greenhouses we’ve got here into hydroponics to grow watercress, leafy greens and herbs. We’re also going to grow berries in one of our big shade houses.”
Te Pae o Waimihia (TPoW) is a Forest Hapu Cluster Trust representing six Ngāti Tūwharetoa hapū – Ngāti Rauhoto, Ngāti Te Urunga, Ngāti Hineure, Ngāti Hinerau, Ngāti Tutetawha, and Ngāti Tutemohuta. TPoW have invested $1 million into He Tipu this year and have other revenue-gathering projects underway to help fund their charitable endeavours.
A new fulltime staff member will soon be hired to work in He Tipu’s native nursery and māra kai (food garden) thanks to a $50,000 grant from BayTrust. It will fund the position for 12 months and He Tipu will hire someone who was previously unemployed. “That is all part of our kaupapa… to make sure we’re giving people who are most at risk a better opportunity in life.”
The role will involve processing all the different seeds gathered from the ngahere (forest), managing the inventory, learning how to germinate them and tracking their progress in terms of nutrient levels and soil condition. They will also help manage the hydroponic crops.
“We will train them to essentially become a horticultural specialist. We’ve got a really great nursery and māra manager here. Because we haven’t got a big team, it’s a really good opportunity for someone to come on board and get that intense supervision and training.”
Blandina says BayTrust has always been really supportive of their kaupapa and He Tipu was grateful for the financial support. “That’s another piece of funding that can really improve our capability and make sure our outcomes and targets have a greater chance of success. Without the funding we might have had to double hat someone or accept doing a lesser job which comes with its risks. But now we can really forge ahead.”
He Tipu’s long-term goal is to become a ‘food hub’ where their free fruit and vegetables can be packaged together with other donations and distributed to the wider community through local marae and social service organisations.
An eco village will also be established to showcase tiny homes, earth homes, hemp homes, composting toilets, worming toilets and incinerator toilets, among other options. “A lot of our whanau and hapu have aspirations of papakianga where the homes are eco-friendly. So we want to make sure people understand the options and make the appropriate choices, having actually experienced them and learned about what it takes to live like this.”
Overall, Blandina says the investment being made by Te Pae o Waimihia, Department of Conservation, BayTrust and other funders will help transform employment, food and environmental opportunities in the region. “I think it’s pretty inspirational.”