In my hippy days of post-Woodstock and pre-Sweetwaters festivals, I had two favourite T-shirts.

One was "Don't Panic Grow Organic" and the other was "Life is a garden- if you dig it".

The size of the T-shirts may have changed by a couple of puku points - from lean to large - but the philosophy behind them for me has not.

Recently we were kindly donated the use of some very fertile whenua up in the rohe of Whakamarama and took on the challenge of teaching our homeless residents how to dig life and grow an organic kai.


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This laced in perfectly with our existing program of catching a kai - using traditional Maori kai gathering programme out on the moana and up in the ngahere (bush), and our Happy Puku cooking and catering programme, already up and running and cooking up a French/Maori feast across Tauranga Moana.

After kick starting our whare 4 whanau emergency housing programme a few summers back we started to see an emerging pattern of disconnection that needed intense social surgery, but not in the conventional "by the book - in a book" kind of way.

Nothing changes when nothing changes so change is what we went about doing and now we pretty much have narrowed our programme down to Catching a Kai – Growing a Kai and Cooking a Kai with a lot of positive korero in between courses.

These three vital life skills can turn a troubled youth or struggling family around and set them on a pathway of success that becomes almost infectious, as good news travels a lot faster than bad in our poorer communities.

Now we have rows and rows of healthy kai growing up in the hinterlands, helped by an attitude of gratitude from the now not so homeless, and those community kingpins who see the solutions we see in reconnecting our whanau to the whenua.

There is no question gardening makes you happier; les stressed and smarter. Mum knew it more than most, as do our homeless up at The Puku Patch in Whakamarama.

Learning to forage for food, grow your own kai and cook it is foreign for many of our kids and they have a belief all kai comes from the supermarket, a myth we must weed out, one puku patch at a time.


Gardening gives the grower an attitude of gratitude, something the instant everything generation need by the bucket full, if we are to take them past the palm of their hand – holding the security blanket cellphone, and replace it with a spade and a watering can.

The Puku Patch is the "Grow a Kai, Catch a Kai and Cook a Kai" trifecta of teaching our homeless hopefuls who come to us disconnected from their communities, whanau and families and most importantly disconnected from themselves.

Sometimes the easiest answers to reconnecting the lost and lonely are in our own back yard.

Kai and korero go hand in hand and have done so for hundreds of generations in Maori culture.

When we were kids growing up in a whanau of 11, mum fed us from our own backyard and continued to do so right up until the day she died. Takeaways were foreign in those days, as were fatty foods.

The highlight of the day was to gather in the kitchen watching mum create a masterpiece from what she had grown and then we would sit around the table laughing and learning as we ate a healthy home-cooked kai.

During the long summer evenings – post the dishes talent quest after our home grown kai, we would sit out in mum's garden, shelling her sweet pods of peas - one for me and one for the pot. Time stood still out in the backyard of our family whare at 30 Macville Rd in the Mount, and happy memories of those long rich red sunsets from the Kaimai ranges in the background of our backyard still stay fresh in my mind today, as do the fragrances.

How simple life was, way back when time was a toanga that we had heaps of. Precious as it was mum had heaps of time for us to spend wisely, playing in our kai basket amongst the rows of cabbages, caulis and silver beet, all the while pulling a few weeds and a few laughs from the memory patch of the day gone by.

For many of our disconnected whanau brought up today in an inter-generational cycle of poverty passed on from one beneficiary to another, there has never been an opportunity to grow a garden.

Audrey Hepburn once said "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow" and belief is a commodity the homeless are short in supply of when it comes to having hope for a better life.

The little Puku Patch is a symbol of hope for our homeless, not for what it is but what it can become.