Sandra Marsh and daughter, Hayley Marsh, completed a NZ Certificate in Horticulture at NorthTec’s Kaitaia campus in 2017. They took their learned knowledge and decided to help their community – Te Hapua – just over 100kms north of Kaitaia with a population of around 300, by creating a community garden – Ngā Tangata o Te Hopua Wai Community Garden.
The garden, opened in September 2019, is around two hectares of land split into different sections: the school garden – planted to educate and nourish the rangitahi, a larger scale market garden section, and a space dedicated to individual whānau plots.
Sandra Marsh says the inspiration for this initiative came from living in such an isolated location. She says, “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.
“Every week, whānau would travel an hour and a half to the nearest supermarket to purchase their groceries and so I think this garden project will strengthen our whanau and community.”
Sandra say this initiative provides healthy, inexpensive herbs, fruits and vegetables. She says, “The garden helps to relieve stress and increase the sense of wellbeing by getting people involved, improving our physical health, providing social opportunities to build a sense of community and belonging, and it enables people to learn and share knowledge about gardening, nature and cooking.”
Sandra says she chose to study horticulture at NorthTec to grow her passion for growing kai, which was passed down to her from her tūpuna. “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.”
Sandra’s daughter, Hayley Marsh, says she loves that the community has 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 says NorthTec 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. It expanded my understanding. I have a deeper respect for the production and life cycles 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 future of the garden. “By the end of the year, we would like a building onsite equipped with the necessary equipment to maintain the garden, and also a new tank or two to help us with the irrigation of the garden.
“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.”