Kaiwhenua Organics is about to get its name out there nationwide — and in more ways than one. The extensive Whale Bay property is not only one of the first businesses to hook into the new Aunty’s Garden network, which offers growers a wide market base through its website, but will also have the story of its success aired nationwide next month on TV One’s Country Calendar.
Longtime local Kaiwaka Riki and his wife Lynne Lovini, who’ve literally grown their business at the garden gate over the past 12 years, were unfazed last week that they were about to feature on the long-running programme — and appeared more preoccupied with the cyclic nature of their thriving operation on the lower slopes of Mount Karioi than the new online marketing venture.
The biggest growers of organics in the Waikato, they now also stand to sell their produce to a much wider spread of Kiwis courtesy of the internet and the Aunty’s Garden project. Launched late last month by Kahungunu Asset Holding Company, it aims to encourage Maori to return to utilise their own land and natural resources as a way of making a living.
That’s exactly what Kaiwaka himself did back in 1999, after local chef Colin Chung challenged him to grow tomatoes for the cafÃ© he then owned, Vinnies. Kaiwhenua — a charitable trust — grew from there and has now been held up as “a shining example of Maori entrepreneurship” by the Kahungunu company.
“We want other local Maori to follow suit,” says general manager Aramanu Ropiha of the website which from this month connects its 40-odd growers or “aunties” around the country with a bigger range of buyers than ever before.
Kaiwaka reckons it’s all about bringing like-minded people together and sharing knowledge. “I can see what working together can do and how it can help our people,” he says.
Kaiwhenua began with an honesty box at the garden gate, at a time when Kaiwaka and Lynne were unemployed. But once they were supplying not only tomatoes but also herbs, carrots, chillis, capsicum and potatoes to Vinnies, the local Four Square supermarket also became interested.
But then Four Square owner Wayne Petchell wanted only salad vegetables, recalls Kaiwaka. It wasn’t until current Four Square boss Richard Jacobsen arrived in town, bought a house at Whale Bay and “came up here and had a look”, recalls Kaiwaka, that other Kaiwhenua vegies found a space on the supermarket shelves.