Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Marae cans the KFC for a giant kumara patch

A Mangere marae has planted 80,000 kumara to try to wean its people off McDonald's and KFC.

The massive garden at the Papatuanuku Kokiri Marae in Mangere Centre Park has expanded to meet a growing need from local families, churches, soup kitchens and other marae.

"We started with 10,000, then it was 30,000 and now it's 80,000," said marae manager Val Teraitua.

The marae is a family affair and aims to improve people's health through exercise and good food. Ms Teraitua runs women's Zumba classes, her husband Lionel Hotene manages the garden and their son Carlos Hotene runs sports programmes.

"The food that we eat right now is killing us. At Middlemore they have 30 dialysis machines," Lionel Hotene said.

"We need to be more at this prevention side. We have this land. We know what good food looks like, but accessibility to good food is part of the problem, so we start to look at where we are in this whole system of food."

When the Herald visited this week, Metui Finau from nearby Rising Stars Boxing Gym and two nephews were digging up kumara for a family funeral. He has planted taro and corn, and uses the produce for fundraising barbecues to support the "kids off the street" who pay just $40 a month at his gym.

Eruini Hawke, who works with Lionel Hotene in the marae waste minimisation project Para Kore, was introducing the garden to a group of Baptist Bible students who will volunteer there for the next few weeks.

"You can't come into the marae and do Zumba without hearing about kumara and having a relationship with Mother Earth that is far more beneficial than having a relationship with McDonald's, Burger King and KFC," he said.

Outside, a young man assigned to do community work in the garden was waiting for instructions.

"We've had 500 people do community service here in the last year and a half," Mr Hotene said.

He said about half of the garden produce goes to families who volunteer there, churches and community groups. Another 30 per cent now goes to Ooooby (Out Of Our Own Back Yards), a social enterprise supplying locally grown food to about 500 Aucklanders. The other 20 per cent is kept for seed.

Produce includes lettuce, kale, rocket, beans, chillies and herbs, but the biggest crop is kumara.

"It's something that connects us to who we are," Mr Hotene said.

Dietitian Rhiannon Jones said kumara were a good source of vitamin C and fibre, especially when the skin is left on.

"They can be part of a balanced diet as long as we have the correct portion for our individual needs and use cooking techniques which limit salt and fat."

- NZ Herald

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