Craig Donaldson eschews chemical fertiliser in favour of compost, mulch and worms.
After years of living “off-the-grid” and growing their own food, a Brynderwyn couple are looking to set up an outdoor education centre to teach other Kiwis how to become self-sufficient themselves.
Craig Donaldson and Marion Fumarola founded the Paheko Education Trust three years ago with the aim of promoting regenerative agricultural practices and the establishment of organic gardens, orchards and “food forests”.
Their ultimate goal is to facilitate the establishment of Papakāinga (villages), where communities grow their own food in an environmentally sustainable way.
They see their outdoor education centre as a means of achieving that end and are looking for a suitable location.
Craig says we live in a time where people have become divorced from participating in growing their own food and have become over-reliant
But he says the advent of Covid-19 has underlined just how fragile the commercial production of food can be.
“For example, nobody is picking fruit in New Zealand because we have not got the fruit pickers from overseas,” he says.
He adds that commercialisation has hurt food production in other ways. Modern hybridised crop varieties do not produce seeds and oblige the food producer to purchase fresh seed from the creators of the varieties each year.
He says this has had devastating consequences in countries such as India, where farmers have found themselves unable to afford hybridised and genetically modified seeds, nor the chemical fertilisers that are needed to sustain their growth.
Craig worries New Zealand similarly risks throwing away its self-sufficiency and allowing its agriculture to end up being controlled by international corporations.
Craig and Marion demonstrated an alternative approach after securing a grant of a few thousand dollars from the Kia Ora Fund last year, which supports efforts to grow affordable, healthy food.
The money was used to help revitalise heritage gardens at the Kohatu Toa Ecovillage – a small community just north of Kaiwaka.
Craig says the couple concentrated on growing varieties of crops that have been around for a long time such as those traditionally grown by Maori or that arrived with early settlers. They included watermelon, Dalmatian beans, kumera, taewa (Maori potato) taro, kamokamo (squash), kaanga maa (corn) and uwhi (yam).
Crops were grown according to organic principles, using mulch and compost and avoiding chemical fertilisers.
Traditional techniques were also applied such as the native American “three sisters” method, whereby squash, corn and beans are grown. The bean fixes nitrogen into the soil, which seeds the corn, which provides the scaffolding for the bean to climb on, while the squash helps to suppress the weeds.
Craig says the garden promises a bountiful harvest this year, and will yield a plentiful supply of seeds for the next planting.
He says the old crops might be a little slower growing, but they are more nutrient dense and a lot more tolerant of insects and other crop hazards.
He says modern varieties are developed to enhance their weight – which means a lot of water content but little nutrition.
The Kia Ora Fund is a collaboration between Kaipara District Council, several other councils in Northland and primary health provider Mahitahi Hauora.
The closing date for the next funding round is March 24.