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Growing a Regenerative Local Kai System

Healthy Families Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Ruapehu

Planting a fruit orchard at Pasifika Born & Raised Early Childhood Centre

Stimulated by increased food insecurity brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020 Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu sought locally-specific food insights through engagement with communities impacted by food insecurity and dependency. As a community we began painting a picture of what a regenerative, mana-enhancing kai system in Whanganui could look like - while drawing on inspiration from other Healthy Families NZ initiatives including the Good Food Road Map (The Southern Initiative).

The Regenerative Local Kai System initiative focuses on the community-led redesign of the kai system to achieve a local end-to-end food supply chain, aiming for sustainability, inclusivity and innovation. This initiative marks a shift from the industrial, corporate food system that contributes to Kai Insecurity and Kai Dependency. The transition is toward a holistic and mātauranga Māori informed Regenerative Local Kai System that fosters Kai Security and Kai Sovereignty, generating a preventative system for widespread social, cultural and ecological well-being.

Community leaders began to emerge as champions of local food system transformation. A diverse group gathered regularly to understand these community insights and to begin playing with initiatives that may support our communities to change the local kai context. This led to the formation of Kai Ora: Whanganui Kai Collective - a community-led movement for change with a focus on connectivity between different kai initiatives already in motion in Whanganui.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, Healthy Families WRR supported Kai Ora in facilitating community engagement hui, attracting collaborators from various sectors. From within these opportunities for connection, many lasting relationships formed that have led on to produce many impactful kai initiatives across the rohe through 2022 and 2023.

The Regenerative Local Kai Systems initiative has been most impactful in three of the Six Conditions of Systems Change: Relationships & Connections, Mental Models and Resource Flows.

Through the many wānanga, co-design engagement hui, harvest events and community meals, Relationships & Connections between community members and organisations working in the kai space have formed and strengthened. The most thriving example are the monthly community meals hosted by Te Ao Hou marae - one of the critical community hubs in the local kai ecosystem - which grow in popularity every month until the most recent had over 150 of the community in attendance. The increase in neighbourhood trust is generating more local kai initiatives that are coordinated by community collaborations and informed by a more cohesive vision for the future of kai in Whanganui. Gradually the disconnected ecosystem of people working to shift the kai system in Whanganui is becoming increasingly interconnected and collaborative.

The strengthening of Relationships & Connections is stimulating shifts in Mental Models through positive relational feedback loops, including feeding an increasing enthusiasm from within our community to achieve kai sovereignty. These collective attitudes strengthen and clarify every time our community participates in empowering and enabling initiatives like implementing community maara and orchards, learning together to grow kūmara, and regularly sharing kai together. Every vigorous conversation around kai that takes place in these contexts feeds a shared determination to drive change. Being involved in tactile experiences of kai sovereignty on the ground is increasing a shared belief that we can genuinely transform the food system and develop a Regenerative Local Kai System that reflects the tāngata, whenua and awa of Whanganui.

The shifts in Mental Models are spreading throughout Whanganui as the community consciousness around the need for kai systems change increases and positive outcomes are becoming increasingly apparent. This is leading to changes in Resource Flows like the increase in funding support across the rohe as funding organisations are recognising the need for kai sovereignty initiatives and are increasingly willing to support them financially. Similarly, the increasingly interconnected movement for kai sovereignty is resulting in the more impactful and dynamic flow of resources such as surplus food, seedlings, seeds, knowledge and expertise between different kai sovereignty initiatives. Initiatives like the Whanganui Kai Hub and the Learning Environment’s Koha Kai kaupapa are examples of initiatives that emerged within the local kai movement that have been partially funded by Whanganui District Council.

Healthy Families WRR is focused on long term kai systems change and is providing consistent stimulus and backbone support to the Regenerative Local Kai System movement through facilitating neighbourhood placemaking, bring community champions into Kai Systems Innovator roles, enabling local kai kaupapa, engaging local government, telling stories of change, organising learning opportunities, and fostering community connections.

Our response to a degenerative global food system is to grow a Regenerative Local Kai System in Whanganui from the community up, which is reliant upon growing and maintaining strong relationships and local capacity for action. Through our deepening relationships, shared vision and on-the-ground successes, we are becoming increasingly capable and empowered as a community to bring to life the kai system that we want and need. In an ever-changing sociopolitical landscape, the wellbeing of our community is being realised through slow, steady, consistent steps toward a shared vision of a culturally intact kai system that is inclusive, resilient and reflects our awa, our ways, and our lives.

You cannot separate kai from either community or whenua. To have a system that champions kai is to have one that champions community and champions whenua. To look after the people means to look after the whenua... ” - (Kore Hiakai, Mana to Mana)

“Its was really about brining neighbours together, neighbours getting to know neighbours, we didn’t know what to expect, we put out flyers and we involved, we involved other neighbours who were really keen on the idea, on our first one we had about 30-40 people turn up and the feedback that came from it was that was the first time they had come onto a marae, they had driven past so many times, and they weren’t sure, so having a shared kai really just broke the ice”. (Geoff Hīpango, Kaitiaki Te Ao Hou Marae)

We’re trying to breakdown this stigma that free kai is only for those that need it, and trying to say that kai is for everyone” “I would like the opinion of free kai in Whanganui to be viewed like free wifi, you can pay for it and get a high quality product, but if you know where to go it’s not too hard to get it for free and accessing free wifi is nothing to be whakamā about”. - (Sol Walsh, Former Whanganui Kai Hub Coordinator)


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