Some of the Omaka aunties. Image: Richard Briggs

From the wharekai to the artisanal food market

A group of entrepreneurial aunties from Ōmaka marae in Blenheim and their delicious preserves are finalists in the New Zealand Artisan Awards.

The aunties of Ōmaka marae have turned their desire for tino rangatiratanga into a social enterprise,  with products that are gaining national recognition. The rongoā Māori-inspired condiments, sold under the brand Manaaki, are finalists in the New Zealand Artisan Awards – no mean feat for a company that started just under two years ago.

Manaaki means to show respect, generosity and care for others, something the aunties of Ōmaka marae are well-known for. If there’s a tangi at another nearby marae, Ōmaka are there to lend a hand with catering, Manaaki co-founder Donna Nepia (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) says.

“I definitely felt that about Ōmaka when I first got involved – seeing how the aunties manaaki their guests is next level.”

It was this spirit of manaakitanga that inspired Nepia and the new-wave of aunties when thinking of a business idea that could support the programmes at the marae.

“It came about from our desire to be self-determining up at Ōmaka marae – we run a lot of initiatives up there but we didn’t want to be solely reliant on funding so we were encouraged to think of a business idea that might be able to sustain everything that we’re doing for the community at Ōmaka marae.”

“We remembered that back in the day our pantry was always full of preserves and condiments made by the aunties and so we thought, ‘How can we do something like that – turn that into some type of product that we could sell to make money, inspired by what our aunties of old used to do?’”

Pā kids harvesting kamokamo at Ōmaka marae. Image: supplied

They took their flavour ideas, including an old recipe for kamokamo pickle, to Margaret Duggan, an expert preserve maker in Marlborough – “the best of the best”. Duggan turned them into the three finished products: Kawakawa Jelly, Kamokamo Pickle and Horopito and Lemon sauce. The condiments are all sweet with the rongoā Māori ingredients giving it a kick.

As much produce as possible is grown in the marae māra kai (food garden), such as the kamokamo which thrives there. Some ingredients don’t suit the growing environment and have to be brought in from a company in the North Island.

“In the past, we had dabbled with our māra kai on and off but what we wanted to do was establish a māra kai that had a purpose, so currently what we plant in there is solely for the purpose of our business.”

The aunties process all the raw produce – chopping apples, squeezing lemons, harvesting the kamokamo. “We rely a lot on our aunties,” Nepia says. The aunties are given a donation for their mahi which is used to purchase merino blankets for whānau in need as part of a kaupapa called Mahana.

Ōmaka aunties putting in the mahi. Image: supplied

While the company is still growing and not yet turning a profit, Nepia says this is “our way of giving back”.

“Everything goes back into our marae to fund our kaupapa that we have up there.”

She hopes that once the business is established it will fund programmes like Pā Kids, an after-school programme where tamariki can be immersed in te reo Māori and tikanga Māori with kemu and waiata.

Winning at the Artisan Awards would go a long way to helping the business grow with $50,000 worth of marketing packages up for grabs. Although Nepia says getting the products in the stores isn’t difficult

“The product really does sell itself to the owners – they can see it’s unique, they can see it’s Māori, they love the taste but to get the product moving off the shelf we need people to become more aware.”

Other Māori-owned and rongoā-inspired finalists include the Aotea range of wellness tonics, and Manawa Honey from Ruatāhuna.

Nepia is heartened by the number of Māori who are starting their own businesses using Māori mātauranga. Her advice for other marae looking to start a social enterprise is find something you are good at.

“Make sure you are passionate about it and believe in it and just go for it. Business isn’t rocket science you just need a really good product that you are passionate about and you are ready to do the hard yards.”

Manaaki is sold in select stores in Marlborough, Wellington and Auckland. You can support the Mahana initiative by donating to their Give A Little Page.

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