Hawke’s Bay School completes new edible Kai Garden

Students and teachers at Pakowhai School in Hawkes Bay recently completed a new edible garden as one of ten winners in this year’s Keep New Zealand Beautiful Kai Garden Competition.

The competition gives schools and ECEs from across the country the opportunity to create a small kai or rongoā garden to help their students develop a greater understanding of the natural world and to gain hands-on experience gardening for their school.

Named ‘Pakowhai Mara Kai (where children and plants grow together)’ the garden incorporates rongoā (traditional Māori medicinal) plants and gives tamariki the opportunity to learn and be involved in every aspect of gardening — from planting, to care, to harvesting — and to gain a sense of achievement and pride as the garden produces.

The name of the area and the school, Pakowhai, has two meanings: ‘Pa Kowhai’ which means the place where there is an abundance of Kowhai; and ‘Pako Whai’ which means to look or forage for food.

Using repurposed materials including driftwood, pallet wood and even bark chips that came from felled trees from Cyclone Gabrielle, the Pakowhai Mara Kai garden includes a wide variety of plants suitable for both summer and winter including berry bushes, grape vines as well as cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower and broccoli), leafy greens (spinach) and root vegetables.

Katherine Mans, parent and coordinator of the Pakowhai Mara Kai project, says the garden gives children the opportunity to eat a variety of food, including some they may not otherwise try, while also learning how those plants can be used medicinally. The rongoā medicinal garden has been planted with Kawakawa, Makomako, Lemon Balm, St Johns Wort, Kopkopa and Chamomile.

Katherine says the school also plans to plant a Kowhai tree in honor of our school name and because the bark of the Kōwhai tree has long been used by Māori medicinally.

Katherine says, “we have had some very enthusiastic helpers over the weeks” with some of the students arriving before school to help the groundskeeper maintain the gardens. “We are really looking forward to the start of term next year to continue to have our children involved and learning in the garden and to watch plants come and go as seasons change.

Additionally, a worm farm has been set up to convert waste into nutrients for the garden, a bee bath to attract insects, and mulching garden beds for easy care and minimal weeds. Students and parents alike will continue to be involved in garden care.

Going into 2024, students aim to “integrate the concepts of growth and connection to land through these gardens, and learn responsibility for taking care of the garden,” says Katherine. “Connected kids learn better, so having a vested interest in a school environment raises student agency and leads to better outcomes for our tamariki.”

More info about our Kai Garden Competition can be found here.

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