DESPITE the march of Omicron through the rohe, Manutuke Vegetable Garden continues to thrive under the nurturing care of Vanessa Lowndes Centre whānau.
The Vanessa Lowndes Centre (VLC), which is part of Turanga Health, helps people with mental, physical and intellectual disabilities live fulfilling lives and prepare for the workplace.
The gardens behind Manutuke Memorial Hall have been cared for by whānau for about 20 years.
Long-time VLC kaiāwhina Chris Miller says it’s a great way for whānau to safely spend time outside and connect with nature during these strange times. He adds “it’s also about whānau taking their learnings and creating their own gardens at home.”
Chris drives whānau to Manutuke a couple of times a week and they do everything from preparing, planting and weeding the crop right the way through to harvesting.
Right now, to help keep whānau safe, the group is broken into smaller teams thereby reducing the chance for the spread of Covid-19.
“We’re a bit down on numbers,” explains Chris. “On any given day some of them get stuck in and lend a hand and then there are others that tend to hold back. But we try to get them all to do something to help.”
The full VLC team developed raised gardens four years ago and have been successfully growing silverbeet, cauliflower, and broccoli. This year they ran a ‘spud in a bucket challenge’ which “wasn’t very successful” laughs Chris. “They just didn’t grow! I think it was the soil we used, it was lacking something.” The same could not be said of the kamokamo which have proliferated on the vine!
Gardener Riki Brooking says he enjoys being in the garden. He’s very quick to point out the ancestor Hinehākirirangi whose likeness oversees proceedings. Hine was the sister of Pāoa, captain of the Horouta canoe. “Papa John [Pomana] taught us how she brought the kumara down,” explains Riki.
Chris says some of the vegetables harvested during March have been used by Turanga Health to help feed staff working in the vaccination and RATS distribution clinics. “But mainly the produce is for whanau. They learn to cook them onsite in the Tūranga health catering kitchen with help from our other kaiāwhina.”
Propagation and harvesting is set to increase later this year now that a new nursery at Matawhero has been added to the VLC operation.
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