Levi and the other three gardeners produce about 400kg of fresh organic vegetables a week. This is distributed free to local families.
“’Pretty much raised around here,” he says. “I’ve always just been running around these streets. It’s great seeing the kaumatuas coming up and getting their kai. Knowing that we picked it, we made it, it’s wholesome food and good for you.
“They’re the ones that raised us. We always walked into their house without even knocking and they were like ‘kai’s on the table boy’ that kind of stuff. So now we’re giving back.”
The garden’s been in place since 2021 on what had been a pony club. It’s part of a wider project to restore the site as a centre of mātauranga-led nature regeneration. It’s also home to a plant nursery and landscape gardening team. These employ local people and operate on Te ao Māori principles. In addition, the project is replanting and regenerating urban ngahere in the neighbouring Kepa Bush Reserve.
The positive influence of this work spreads much wider. The landscaping team has been installing and maintaining spray free native plantings around the city centre for Auckland Council. And they’ve installed a ‘living roof’ of hardy native plants atop Auckland's Central City Library.
Last year the food garden team’s leader Etienne Neho joined in the creation of Te Maharatanga o Ngā Wai, "remembering our waters”, a culturally informed urban landscape installation in Wellesley Street.
Etienne says: “I feel even more privileged to mahi here, not being directly from Ngāti Whātua. My wife is from here and my children. That’s enough for me to want to push and give back. I wouldn’t be doing my iwi any justice if I wasn’t giving my all and making sure things prosper here. It’s my adopted iwi and I represent Ngāti Whātua hard and I’m proud to do so.
“These are things I want to take back to my own people eventually, so I’m putting in the ground work now. This is my learning time. When I get a bit older I want to go back home and do something similar. It’s cool to take these kind of learnings and spread them out. There’s no point having all the knowledge if you’re withholding it. So that’s one of my big passions. To make sure we’re giving back to the whānau and the kaumatua here that have taken me in like their own. I really feel that.”
The Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is supporting this work. So far we've provided more than $250,000 through the government’s Jobs for Nature Programme, administered by the Department of Conservation. The costs of employing three of the current staff are supported in this way. Since the beginning of this funding the iwi has employed a total of 26 people in this work. The funding has also helped behind the scenes with administrative support.
Kiwa-Jon Faiers is one of those currently employed. After nine months on the job, he’s hooked.
“I feel like I’ll carry on with this kind of work,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll get bored of it, because it’s really physical and it keeps me nice and fit and healthy. I like being outdoors, I don’t like being stuck inside.”
Kiwa-Jon intends to study to secure his career path long term. But that will rely on more funding being secured to extend his contract.
With help from business and philanthropy SBN intends to continue and grow its support for this project, and many more like it.
If you can help, get in touch. To find out more about this area of SBN’s work visit sustainable.org.nz/learn/regenerating-nature/