Maara kai (garden planter) in a Nelson-Marlborough region garden.Maara kai (garden planters) are standing proud in whānau gardens around the Nelson-Marlborough region, thanks to the efforts of local people on Community Work sentences and a partnership between Community Corrections and Te Kotahi O Te Tauihu Charitable Trust.

The project further strengthens the relationship between Te Kotahi O Te Tauihu (a charitable trust made up of eight iwi across the top of the South Island) and top of the South Community Corrections, developed during last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns.

During this time, Corrections staff supported Te Kotahi O Te Tauihu to set up the Kaikōura foodbank and packed and delivered kai packages for families across the Marlborough and Nelson Districts.

“While it was great to see the difference this mahi made, we wondered if a more sustainable solution could be found for families repeatedly needing support,” says Blenheim Service Manager Sharon. “Empowering people to grow their own kai gives them skills to help themselves to counter food insecurity for their whānau and community.”

Creating garden planters through the maara kai initiative offers a great opportunity for Corrections to make a longer-term difference for these families, tautoko (support) a local community partner, and teach people on Community Work sentence skills which will benefit their own whānau. Using donated wood, Corrections’ Community Work team guide people on sentence to create the maara kai, growing their construction skills, and empowering them to give back to the community.

Once people in need have been identified, Senior Community Work Supervisor Kevin, and his team contact people to arrange delivery of their new maara kai and soil. Te Kotahi O Te Tauihu staff then follow up with plants, irrigation systems and guides for gardening, using maramataka. So far, 20 people on sentence have built 50 maara kai, with more garden planters underway.

Maramataka is a traditional Māori practice that uses knowledge of the star systems, moon cycles, tides and the environment to decide when to carry out particular tasks. Winter has traditionally been used for reflection and planning, while the summer months are perfect for harvesting food.

“Thanks to this partnership, we have surpassed our original goals!” says Te Kotahi O Te Tauihu Koanga Kai Lead, Whitney. “We had one recipient tell us that they love showing their maara kai off to their whānau, with another saying that this initiative has allowed them to reconnect to Papatūānuku (the Māori earth mother) and feed their whānau with her aroha.”

The partners are now aiming to double their efforts and build 100 maara kai for whānau across the top of the South Island.

For Sharon and the team at Blenheim, the project is valuable because of the widespread benefit it has for the community.