All things possess a mauri (soul) and it is the mauri of the humble kūmara being called upon to connect local whānau to Papatūānuku.

Last Friday Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, Kai Rotorua volunteers and students from around the rohe planted 3500 seedlings of kūmara at Te Puea Orchard.

Kai Rotorua volunteer facilitator Te Rangikaheke Kiripatea said it was the third year for the planting.

"As is often the Māori way, the concept came to fruition over a cup of tea with friends [Te Puea owners] and has continued to grow," Kiripatea said.

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This year more than 80 students from Rotorua, Tauranga and Taupō were involved in the planting, with an additional 100-odd volunteers on board to plant the kūmara and rīwai (potato) into tāpapa (beds).

The tupu (seedlings) were grown at Ohinemutu before being taken to Te Puea.

"The idea behind Kai Rotorua is to teach people to create sustainable food sources and to build resilience so we can be a well-nourished, well connected community.

"That is why we chose the kūmara. The kūmara has its own story, its own history. People can relate to the kūmara while it's pretty hard to feel connected to a carrot.

Reuben Turner, 4, from ABC Rotorua Central helps plant the kumara. Photo / Stephen Parker
Reuben Turner, 4, from ABC Rotorua Central helps plant the kumara. Photo / Stephen Parker

"There is also an old Māori whakataukī [proverb] Kāore te kūmara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka [the kumara does not say how sweet he is] to remind us we need to stay humble."

There are different tribal traditions about the introduction of kūmara to New Zealand. Te Arawa and Tainui traditions speak of the female ancestor Whakaotirangi bringing kūmara to Aotearoa while descendants of the Horouta canoe believe their ancestor Hinehākirirangi safeguarded the kūmara on that waka and planted it at Manutūkē near Gisborne.

Kiripatea said the journey of the kūmara and rīwai went on to connect to other things.

"In partnership with Rotorua Lakes Council, Scion, and Toi Ohomai, we have embarked on a journey to bring a food hub to Rotorua.

"The hub will be a living building that includes a seed bank, a café, a commercial kitchen, a sustainable backyard garden and food forest and an interactive museum that will show the history of the kūmara in Rotorua."

Once the kūmara and rīwai planted on Friday have been harvested, the premium vegetables will be sold to continue the work being carried out by Kai Rotorua, while the seconds are given away to volunteers and community groups.