Reporter Whatitiri Te Wake spent the afternoon with Rereata Mākiha in one of 11 commercial-sized gardens he is working on in Te Tai Tokerau.
He’s on a mission to help feed communities across Northland in the face of the Omicron outbreak and soaring food prices.
Rereata Mākiha has spent most of his life honing and strengthening his knowledge of the traditional teachings of the environment and māramataka Māori, particularly its connection to gardening.
He says he is filling a gap that continues to widen.
“Kua ngaro katoa ēnei momo mātauranga. Ka haere ngā whānau ki te taone mahi ai, nā, ka kapikapi ngā poutāpeta ngā tereina ka noho kore mahi ngā whānau ka hokihoki mai ngā whānau ki te kāinga, e hoki tonu mai ana iaianei”
“This type of knowledge has been lost. When our whānau went to town to work, the post offices closed, the trains, our whānau were left without work. Then they began to come home - and they're still coming home,” he said.
He's a part of a kaupapa that has seen the establishment of 11 commercial-sized gardens from the Far North to Whangarei with an aim of sustaining the people and marae communities. He says it's going back to how the people lived earlier. He is sharing knowledge and resources to sustain communities.
“He pērā anō ki ngā wā o mua ka haere mai tēnā whānau, tēnā whānau ki te āwhina. A Whirinaki, ka peka mai ki konei, ka haere atu mātou ki kō. Ae! Pērā anō te āhua”
'Learn to survive'
“It was like that in the old days, that family would help family. The people of Whirinaki would come over, we'd go over there - it's the same thing,” he said.
With food prices soaring - and an uncertain future in the pandemic, he said it was crucial for tamariki to be involved to “learn to survive”.
“Ki te kore e ākona, ka ngaro. Pērā ki te mahi te whakatupu, te kato totoro, te whakatō. Taku whakapae, ko mātou anahe iaianei e toe ana e mahi tonu ana i tērā momo mahi. Ka mutu, i ngā raorao katoa o Hokianga nei koira tetahi o ngā mahi”
“If it's not taught, it will be lost. Like how to grow, to cut totoro, to plant. My guess is that we're the only ones left who do this kind of work. Also, across all valleys in Hokianga, that's one of the things we do,” he said
, Mākiha says it was very common to see huge gardens in Waima, and in Maori communities around the country, something he wants to see again.
“Ka mutu, rima tekau tau ēnei whenua e takoto noa iho ana. Ka whakaaro te whānau kia hurihia, kia hoki anō ki te whakatō kai”
“For fifty years this land has been just left – and now whānau are wanting to turn it into gardens"
It is a traditional solution to the continued pressures and challenges of the time, ensuring the people of the north are not only sustained but thrive.