The Kai Rotorua organisation was born out of a belief that the city’s food system was harming its inhabitants, while at the same time not serving their needs.
Speaking at last month’s Feeding the Bay of Plenty forum in Te Puke, Kai Rotorua chairwoman Jasmin Jackson says a survey revealed 100 articulated trucks per day were entering the city to deliver food, while supermarkets held only one to three days’ supply of food.
“We’re putting up with all that vehicle pollution but in a natural disaster wouldn’t have enough food to get through,” says Jasmin, “especially as a lot of our residents don’t have enough money to keep the pantry stocked up”.
Rotorua is “way up there” in its density of fast-food outlets with 297. “Some primary school students walk past 60 junk food ads in 500m,” says Jasmin “And fresh produce isn’t coming to school in lunchboxes.”
Three years ago the Rotorua area had only one market garden and two pick-your-own blueberry farms – and very few opportunities to learn how to grow food. So Kai Rotorua helped create 66 free backyard gardens for families, and followed them up every three months for a year.
“People became significantly more confident about gardening, increased their vegetable intake by half a serving per day and many increased the size of their garden,” says Jasmin. “It’s a project we want to repeat in 2020.”
Initially known as the Rotorua Local Food Network, Kai Rotorua was formed in 2016 and has also helped create the Rotorua Farmers Market, which launched in late-2016, worked with Community Fruit volunteers and supported gardening education in schools.
It is investigating commercial-scale growing of kumara and riwai (Maori potatoes) and plans to develop a social enterprise scheme during the next three years.
Last year Kai Rotorua community gardener Te Rangikaheke Kiripatea, who was at the forum, led the establishment of a kumara bank, also aimed at restoring lost knowledge about the crop.