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Whanganui Kai Collective brings people together to strengthen local food system

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

While 2020 COVID lockdown separated people physically, it also instigated community

coming together in new and different ways. Such was the case with the newly formed Kai

Ora: Whanganui Kai collective.

Lockdown was the catalyst for bringing together an informal network of people, Iwi and

organisations connecting to discuss the local food situation. It exposed the regions food

insecurity and the heavy reliance the Whanganui community have on supermarkets to provide food to feed their whānau.

During the rāhui alert levels the Healthy Families team developed the ‘COVID-19 Kai

Snapshot report’ informed by community insights into the local kai context through

collaboration and communication with key community champions and organisations.

“We rapidly captured insights from our rohe as part of a national Healthy Families

Community of Practice and in this, our own people at home identified that lockdown

presented us with an opportunity to reset our food system. We began painting a picture of what a regenerative kai system in Whanganui would look like where both food security and sovereignty strengthens our overall health and wellbeing,” says lead systems innovator for Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu Tom Johnson.

Community wellbeing manager Lauren Tamehana said “Most of the people who rung the call centre were used to planning being on a tight budget, but during lockdown they had people at home all day every day, some had kids that would ordinarily access breakfast and even lunch at school, but with them at home eating it was really hard to make ends meet – it was stretching too far, these people were already on really tight budgets. And initially the lack of staples such as flour and rice was an added worrying factor for low income families.”

“During lockdown we saw a movement of our whānau rising to meet the challenges and

barriers experienced within our community in exercising their kai sovereignty. We saw

manaakitanga in action where the community stepped in to ensure no-one went hungry.” says Johnson.

“As part of the integrated recovery team work that was undertaken, food security was

identified as really high on what peoples issues were. I’m concerned from an emergency

management perspective that if we have a natural disaster that cuts off our food supply we are in trouble as a region” said Tamehana.

Since coming out of level 3, six community hui have been held engaging people from across the local food system, from local growers and producers to food rescue, those providing food parcels, agencies and services.

Part of this work has included looking at local traditional growing practices including

utilising the Maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar to assist in understanding planting and

growing seasons.

The intent is that the localised kai system is informed by Whanganui-tanga based on

indigenous knowledge that ensures that food is produced in ways that nourishes both the people and the environment.

Geoffery Hipango, has been an active member of the Kai collective since its inception

through his involvement with Te Ao Hou marae, “the sharing of knowledge, of more than

just hands in the earth, brings joy, brings people together where we can share our

experiences, I met neighbours that I didn’t know until the Kai Collective”.

“We need to acknowledge the importance of food sovereignty, the right to healthy kai for

everyone, and as a collective through diverse skills we are able to share knowledge with one another, food is medicine, food is ceremony and food is activism. For me this is about

reclaiming traditional knowledge around environmental practice and maara kai and how we can reclaim our tikanga in that space. Growing kai has become a commodity, where healthy kai should be a basic human right and traditional practices can influence that” he said.

Dave Hursthouse, coordinator of the Socio-Ecological Learning Environment, regenerative farmer at Piwakawaka Farm and chairperson of Permaculture New Zealand has been involved in the collective since early in its development “people are disconnected from their kai, they don’t know where it comes from or the relationship they have to it, through reconnection the food system can become medicinal again”.

“The current food system is extractive, rather than being grown in a way that cares for the earth and the people we’re feeding, we’re mining the whenua for corporates to make money. Unhealthy food is cheap and convienient, we need to flip the system so that its healthy nutritious kai that is cheap and convienient”.

“We need to ensure that there’s food in every belly that this food is healthy, nutrious and grown locally, that the people of Whanganui have sovereignty over their kai system and the capacity to produce and gather kai in a way that is authentic to Whanganuitanga” he said.

The group have undertaken plenty of action within the short time of their establishment. Kai ora: Whanganui Kai Collective have developed the Whanganui good food roadmap and strategic intent document outlining their vision for a regenerative local food system that increases access to local, affordable, nutritious kai. These documents will pave the way to support local food initiatives to thrive through connecting them with funding, training, learning opportunities and mentorship.

“I see the potential for the kai collective to grow and bring in more people, its a way of being able to get information out to the community and get people involved. The kai collective should keep us connected” said Tamehana.

Rebecca Davis, Impact Strategist and Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu Manager, says “our role in Healthy Families is to understand the conditions for change and support collectives to design an alternative reality, or solutions that overturn the systemic issues we currently face. The Kai Collective is a amazing movement of change makers who get the opportunity of a regenerative local food system that is good for people and planet!”

“Working with the Health Families team has been amazing” says Hursthouse “everything that has emerged in this space is informed first and foremost from the community. The initiatives and solutions are grounded and much more likely to be successful because of this” says Hursthouse.

The community are invited to join the Kai Ora Whanganui Kai Collective, made up of individuals and organisations committed to working together towards solving the kai challenges faced by the local communities and to amplify the good stuff that’s already happening on, or in, the ground.

If you want to know more or are interested in getting involved please contact Tom Johnson on 027 282 3750 or email


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