Sandra Marsh and daughter Hayley both completed the NZ Certificate in Horticulture at NorthTec's Kaitaia campus in 2017. And they have taken their knowledge home to their community, the northernmost settlement in the country, and created a community garden.
Ngā Tangata o Te Hopua Wai, 'opened' in September last year, comprises around 2ha of land divided into sections — the school garden, planted to educate and nourish the rangatahi, a larger-scale market garden, and a space dedicated to individual whānau plots.
Sandra said the inspiration had come from living in an isolated location.
"I would often have discussions with my project partner, Jenny Le'lieve, and daughter Hayley about the needs of our little community, and gardening, youth and education were topics we felt strongly about," she said.
"Every week whānau would travel an hour and a half to the nearest supermarket to purchase their groceries, and I think this garden project will strengthen our whānau and community."
Sandra said the garden was providing healthy, inexpensive herbs, fruit and vegetables, but there was more to it than that. It also helped to relieve stress and increase people's sense of wellbeing by getting them involved, improving their physical health, providing social opportunities to build a sense of community and belonging, and enabling them to learn and share knowledge about gardening, nature and cooking.
Sandra said it was her passion for growing kai, which had been passed down to her from her tūpuna, that had motivated her to study horticulture.
"Living in the most remote rural area in Northland, my tūpuna had no option but to produce large, sustainable crops to feed their whānau. I always admired the mana and knowledge that was poured into these gardens," she said.
Meanwhile Hayley loved that the community had a space to grow kai and share knowledge, skills and stories.
"As a young girl growing up, I remember observing my mother growing a variety of putiputi, hua rākau and huawhenua. She would often share what plants flourished and ideas around what could have been done to prevent diseases. I would love for my son and future generations to enjoy the same fruits," she said.
NorthTec had provided a programme that equipped her and her mother with the principles and practices of horticulture.
"This education enabled me to contribute within my community to share knowledge and advice, enhancing tikanga practices," she said.
"It expanded my understanding. I have a deeper respect for the production and lifecycles of living organisms. I found plant science absolutely fascinating.
"I am so grateful to NorthTec for teaching me the skills required to help my community. In particular I would like to thank my tutor, John Hill. You do a fantastic job, and you really go the extra mile to help your students. I am truly thankful for all the support I received throughout my studies."
Sandra has big plans for the garden.
"By the end of the year we would like a building on site equipped with the necessary equipment to maintain the garden, and also a new tank or two to help us with irrigation," she said.
"In future I would love to see the youth in our community educated in horticulture. I would also like to see Ngā Tangata o Te Hopua Wai Community Garden become an environment to provide our youth with practical training and positive support around them to help them succeed in their goals."