The Herald is profiling 12 charities awarded $8333 in grants from Auckland Airport's Twelve Days of Christmas programme – now in its 13th year. The $100,000 funding comes from generous travellers who donate money at the airport.
In the grassy hills above the Manukau SuperClinic, there is a heart-shaped garden called Te Maara Kai o Wirihana designed to feed and nurture its local community.
Paige Dobbs is one of three managers of the garden established a year ago on 1.6 acres (6475 sq m) of land leased for free by the Counties Manukau District Health Board to support healthy food systems and wellbeing.
The former Manurewa High School horticulture student learnt her skills in the garden and now enjoys passing them on to other students from the adjoining school. "Spending time outside the classroom had a huge impact on all of us out here. Being in the garden is therapeutic," she says.
Following the first Covid lockdown, the garden managers decided to focus on food production to support an urgent need in their local community. The first harvest of brassicas was distributed through community outreach packs and community fridges.
The organic produce is also sold to staff and the school cafe and catering department with the aim of the garden becoming self-sustaining within three years.
Food waste from the SuperClinic and the school cafe is used to teach students about composting in the zero-waste facility.
Middlemore Foundation spokeswoman Amy McWhannell says the charity also provided a garden shed and plans to build a kitchen on site. Its next goal is to establish a rongoā Māori healing garden and fruit tree forest. "This is just the start," she says.
More than 200 students took part in digging the initial vegetable patches before the first lockdown with the help of 10 teachers. Next year, they plan to hold family days and other events to open the space up and get students passing on their knowledge.
"The vision of Te Maara Kai is to improve the wellbeing, resilience and cohesion of the Manurewa community," Amy says.
Another goal is to support employment pathways for local youth in horticulture, environmental science, health and nutrition, business management, hospitality and landscape design. Manurewa High School's business academy is developing a business model for the social enterprise.
Paige knew nothing about gardening until she took horticulture in year 12. "My time-management skills were really bad. Being here has disciplined me more. It's taught me that I need to have a plan and a checklist to go through every day.
"There's a lot of problem solving, and you need to work together, which I really enjoy. I've been able to apply the skills I've learnt here to my personal life."
The 19-year-old also works part-time at Mitre 10 in stocktaking but hopes to pursue a career in agriculture if possible.
"Learning how to teach people was the biggest barrier that I had to overcome because I'm shy, but people were so nice it makes you feel like doing more. We bring in music for the students. They like working in teams. It's a really good place to be," she says.
The Auckland Airport grant will pay for volunteers to maintain the garden over the summer while the students are away for the holidays.
To donate: www.middlemorefoundation.org.nz