Artisan: Ka pai kai

By Sophie Bond

Photo / ted Baghurst
Photo / ted Baghurst

A new certification label aims to become a market force for Maori organic food producers.

A recently launched organic food labelling system promotes Maori knowledge and values, including a healthy earth and healthy consumers. Called Hua Parakore, meaning pure product, the label is an initiative of Te Waka Kai Ora, the National Maori Organics Authority.

Ohaeawai resident Geneva Hildreth spent many years growing organic produce on her family's small farm and selling it at local markets.?As chair of Taitokerau Organic Producers (TOPIS) and an executive member of Te Waka Kai Ora, Geneva was involved in creating the Hua Parakore verification system.

"For me Hua Parakore is about producing healthy kai that's going to not only look after Papatuanuku and the environment but also produce healthy mokopuna."

She has a vision to see the Hua Parakore tohu (label) on the front gates of all Maori food producers. "So that it becomes recognised and everyone knows what it is," she says. "The other vision is acknowledging it as an indigenous model, so we're working with other indigenous peoples to support them to achieve their tino rangatiratanga (self-determination and control) endeavors also."

Though retirement recently led Geneva and her partner Raymond to downsize their food production she says the endeavour achieved its aim. "Our dream was to bring our kids back to the land so they don't take their food for granted."

Te Waka Kai Ora researcher Monique Badham (Ngati Whatua) says the backyard used to be the main source of food for Maori communities.

"Hua Parakore is about recreating our kapata kai (food cupboard) using ancestral knowledge (matauranga) and values, while also harnessing the opportunities and knowledge of today.

"The kaupapa of Hua Parakore is about encouraging people to create their own economic livelihoods - to cultivate support within and between communities so that they can have true tino rangatiratanga of their lives through their food."

Biofarm owners Cathy and Jamie Tait-Jamieson have been producing certified organic yoghurt and milk since 1987 and were the first recipients of the Hua Parakore label.

Their farm on the banks of the Manawatu River has been in Jamie's family for four generations and Cathy says the business is still strongly oriented around family.

"There are a lot of stories that are handed down from generation to generation and it's these stories that build the whole kaupapa or reason behind what we do."

Although Biofarm is already certified organic by AsureQuality Cathy says the Hua Parakore label goes a step further to acknowledge the story behind the product.

"It's something just a little bit different; it enables consumers to have a connection through the product to the people on the land who are creating it.

"There is a korowai, or cloak that surrounds that verification and that acknowledges the value of the story behind the way we farm and we produce.

Cathy, who is Ngati Tukorehe, says whakapapa, or lineage is an important aspect of the business.?

"We take that lineage a step further and say every animal on our farm was born here, and we don't bring in any of our feed. It's that complete traceability of everything on our farm.

"We have relationships with people on the West Coast that collect the honey for our honey yoghurt and we're forming relationships with the orchardists of the apples that make the juice that goes into in our newest product.

"It's about knowing where all the things come from that go into our product."

Cathy believes the Hua Parakore label will be a marketing advantage in future. "We're currently investigating selling into the Australian market and our Hua Parakore verification is very much of interest.

"At Biofarm, first and foremost we're concerned with animal welfare; second we're making sure our customers have what they are after and third we're looking after our people."

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