The Hapī team were out in the paddock building our maara kai when BayBuzz phoned, so writing about our new vegetable garden seems appropriate.
The simple act of growing food epitomises everything that we are being called to do in the world right now. Through the act of gardening, we sequester soil carbon, create food security and support nutritional health. We create community, we grow knowledge and we rediscover a concept of faith that is connection with our natural world.
Our Hapī maara kai was conceived in the first lockdown. We watched our young people really struggle with the Level 4 restrictions. They seemed to take the hardest mental hit as their natural inclination is to be out and about, socialising and engaging with the world. We realised that this whole lockdown business was the perfect opportunity to engage an otherwise reluctant generation into food production because it was their only ticket out of the house. Bring on permanent Level 4! (just kidding)
We have been observing a genuine rise in anxiety within our young people and I shared my concerns with Te Waka Kai Ora chair Geneva Hildreth who has a professional background in mental health. “Get them into the maara,” was her response. “Papa will heal them. It’s simple, they just need to get their hands in the earth.”
For our team of busy cafe workers being in the maara is literally a breath of fresh air. Bathing in vitamin D, slowing the pace of our work, sharing a moment of freedom from the pressure of working with the public, participating in an act of care and nurture – we all emerge from our time in the maara visibly restored.
Our maara kai has also connected us to the knowledge of an older generation.
Peter Alexander, the retired founder of Chantal Organics, and Biddy Ormond, the very much un-retired producer at Good Earth Organics, have mentored us closely to get our gardens up and running. Without their help we would have really struggled to know what to do next. It was a real blessing to just do what we were told! Chris Hull, retiring farmer at Hohepa and national producer of the biodynamic preps for over 30 years, is mentoring our development of composting systems and use of biodynamics. Clyde Potter, retiring producer extraordinaire of Epicurian Supplies, is passing on some of his equipment to help get us started. Even my father, a refusing to retire life-long sheep and cattle farmer, has come on board with irrigation solutions and a renewed enthusiasm for growing our own food.
Back in the day everyone had a garden. It was an essential of life. Everybody grew at least one thing well and they used it to feed themselves and share with others. My family grew all their own potatoes and I would give a lot to eat a potato grown with the seed my Irish grandfather grew. When we talk about food sovereignty this is it. The simple act of growing our own food and passing on the knowledge of how to do this through the generations is a declaration of political freedom and economic independence.
Growing a garden doesn’t come easily and we are at the beginning. Our mentors start talking about the white fly and mildew and I freak out about everything we are going to have to learn. But the reality is that we don’t really have a choice, this is something that we have to learn how to do. Our organic producers are retiring, and we need to step up to take their place. As our producers have retired, we are often reduced to buying in organic vegetables from distributers in Auckland! The shame!
Our mentors are helping us because they know how important it is that we can grow healthy safe food. Peter cites his belief that every organic grower needs to help at least one other grower to get themselves started. We have a feeling he has aspirations to leave a sea of growers in his wake and we are happy to be early uptakers.
They all talk about how nutritionally important it is to eat food that have been grown in healthy soils where the biology has not been destroyed by chemicals. “The earth is a living organism that needs to be nurtured,” says Clyde. “When cared for the soil naturally develops the microbiology that creates fertility and life-force. This is what we are eating.”
“It’s just so important to eat healthy food,” says Biddy. “And it’s easy,” she waves her hand, “so easy! You will be amazed how easy it will be. And you are going to love it! It is going to bring you so much pleasure.”
Ironically, a decade ago when I had the opportunity to interview a host of our most successful organic farmers for Organics Aotearoa New Zealand, they all said the same thing, once you get over the initial hurdles it just gets easier and easier and the most unexpected outcome is how happy it makes you feel.