In a plant nursery in Waikato, rangatahi are "doing the mahi" to help restore water quality in rivers nearby.

They're employed by the Ngāti Hauā Mahi Trust Nursery in Mangateparu, near Morrinsville.

"Today we are potting up some carexes," Waikohu Keelan said. "They come in these trays of 338 and they have outgrown the little trays so we are giving them a little more space to grow in."

Also repotting carex seedlings is Makoha Nightingale-Pene, another young person who's learning about native plants while working for the trust.

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"These will grow and grow until a certain height, until ready to go out for planting," he said. "They won't take too long, maybe six to nine months."

"The plants are then put out onto sites for restoration, riparian plants, wetlands, and we work with all the councils," said general manager, Keri Thompson.

The Ngāti Hauā Mahi Trust Nursery is responsible for many plants now growing in the Waikato. Last year more than 60,000 natives were planted, the year before more than 90,000 were grown and this year the nursery is on track to plant another 90,000.

The trust is an iwi, a church and a community group working to protect te taiao - the environment - by employing people to work in the nursery.

"The key things are 'can you pass a drug test' and 'are you willing to put in a hard days work'," Thompson said.

The work conditions in the nursery can be tough.

"You have to pretty fit," said nursery educator, Te Aroha Drummond. "We work in some pretty harsh conditions, heat waves like we just have had, and in the winter it's cold, it's wet."

Drummond says the nursery is not only growing plants, it is also "growing people".

"It helps them to gain more knowledge about we call te taiao - the world around them, their surroundings. Especially now with the culture the young ones have which is more indoor based, more academic based," she said.

"They're forgetting their roots and how to connect with the outside world, and if I can do that to help them connect, to help them grow, yeah I'll do that any day."

"What we've got is committed people coming down, doing the work and buying into this bigger vision we have, that we are part of positive change for the Waikato River, the Piako, for all the rivers within the Waikato rohe," Thompson said.

Twenty-one-year-old Brodie Spearpoint has spent two years working for the trust and is now Operations Manager. He's learnt a lot in that time.

"When I first came here didn't know bugger all about native trees. I couldn't really understand why we plant the riparian and why we plant plants on the sides of the rivers," he said.

"Since I have been here, I have come to know a lot more te Reo Māori and the culture side of things and I think that's pretty cool - even going to marae and stuff."

Nightingale-Pene agrees.

"Out of all these plants I only knew harakeke and mānuka and now I've learnt so many more native plants and I've also learnt the difference between a lot of them, like what are their benefits and things like that," he said.

Keelan does the mahi for the sake of her five-year-old daughter, Weweia.

"For me personally, my main focus is our environment and looking after our planet, doing the best we can to provide a better environment."

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