A South Auckland marae is establishing a community compost collection service that not only reduces waste, but will help the next generation learn about living more sustainability.
If you were driving into Māngere’s town centre it would be easy to miss the urban oasis that is Papatūānuku Kōkiri marae and its beautiful nurseries and kūmara plots, thanks to a long line of hedges shielding it from rushing traffic.
But it’s clear when I arrive that this marae is no secret garden, as there’s a steady stream of visitors lining up outside for fish from its Kai Ika project.
The project, which redistributes fish heads, frames and offal from fishing clubs and commercial operators to families and community groups, is one of many initiatives being run out of this place.
The marae also sells organically grown vegetables at the Grey Lynn farmers market every Sunday, supplies seasonal produce to Peter Gordon’s Homeland restaurant in Wynyard Quarter, runs regular educational programmes on te reo Māori and sustainable living practices for a range of ages, as well as distributing food parcels to needy families and those self-isolating with Covid-19.
One key aspect of fuelling much of their output is compost, which can cost the marae up to $2,000 a month from commercial suppliers on the North Shore – but that’s all about to change.
Thanks to funding from Auckland Council’s waste minimisation innovation fund, the marae will soon begin collecting food scraps from schools in the area to grow their own compost heap in an initiative designed to benefit all parties.
Marae kaiwhakahaere Lionel Hotene says the project is not only a great way to replenish nutrients in their garden’s soils, but also reduces the massive amount of waste created by school lunches.
“In one week, visiting just one school we are getting two to three wheelie bins’ worth of compost,” Hotene says.
“I just started by picking up their leftover apples and bananas from Koru School, as they break down really easily and can really supercharge our gardens, so once we go to these other schools it will amp up our ability to grow more.”
Due to not having the facilities or tools they haven’t been able to do it on a larger scale, but thanks to this $23,000 council grant, the marae will purchase three large commercial compost bins and an electric bicycle and trailer to do the collecting.
“We call food the whāriki, which means mat, as it’s the thing that brings people together to do all the other things we do.
Papatūānuku Kōkiri marae was started just under 40 years ago by Māori Women’s Welfare League member Mere Knight on Manukau city council land, with the intention of growing food to sustain the community. The current kaiwhakahaere Valerie Teraitua and husband Hotene have aimed to carry on her legacy, which Hotene says has meant always keeping food at the centre of everything. “Food has always been the main thing, since day one, and this project is just an extension of that – but with better gears like an electric bike.”
Māngere’s Koru School principal Stan Whata says the project has huge educational benefits, as well as reducing the school’s impact on landfill.
“For us, this is about the learning involved through the process of composting – reducing waste, reusing our resources and where applicable, recycling,” he says.
“The learning opportunities are numerous – from how the waste is generated, the composting process, the involvement of our environment and what it means for caring for our Papatūānuku and how we can contribute towards this.”
With many businesses now practising recycling and composting of their waste, marae like Papatūānuku Kōkiri could be among the leaders in collecting and making use of that compost waste you’ll soon put out with your other waste products for roadside collection.
Auckland councillor Richard Hills, chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, says the aim of this half a million fund is to support innovation and create “enduring change” by supporting the organisations that are already leading the way in their communities.
“Less than 20% of Auckland’s waste is actually from household collections, so we need private sector partners to help lead the way,” he says.
“There are already so many great zero-waste solutions out there, and this fund gives our community the boost they need to bring the circular economy to life.”