Māra kai — gardening for food

This activity encourages children, young people, and their family to think about why we might want to grow our own food and how we can all do this.

Teaching concepts

  • Topics: Place and environment, land, water, and resources.
  • Concepts: Tūrangawaewae, kaitiakitanga.

Good for your health and our environment

The long-standing tradition of growing your own food can have a positive impact on the health of people, as well as the environment.

To make this more relevant and rewarding, we suggest using plants that will grow relatively quickly — and ones that are most likely to be considered delicious!

Colour photograph of 5 primary students at a māra (garden). It shows them holding their hands on the māra vegetables.

Image credit: Roslyn School eco-warrior pupils show off their veggie garden spoils, 2018 by David Unwin. Stuff Limited. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

History of māra kai in Aotearoa NZ

Planting and cultivation of gardens for food have been important right from the earliest human settlement of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The ancestors of Māori found that the taro they brought with them from Polynesia did not grow readily, whereas they enjoyed more success with kūmara. Before the first European explorers came to Aotearoa, Maori had well-established māra kai practices to feed themselves. This meant that they had produce they could trade with settlers. They were also quick to try growing new plants introduced by the settlers, such as potatoes.

European settlers also had to adapt their crops and practices to what would work in this new environment. It remained common practice for many New Zealanders to grow their own fruit and vegetables to provide for families, often preserving for times of short supply.

Suggested activity

  • Discuss why and how people grow food for themselves, and what the impact of this is on the local environment — from growing, to eating, to composting. You could also discuss the transportation and storage of food versus eating locally grown and seasonal produce, and whether big or small gardens are more productive.
  • Investigate what types of fruit and vegetables would be suitable to grow in your local area, and what time of year to plant each of them. The maramataka (Māori lunar calendar) is a useful tool, as well as information about weather patterns.
  • Create your own garden, in your backyard or in pots, or look for a community garden in your local area that you can contribute to. If there isn't an existing community garden in your area, you could talk to people in your community about whether you could help to set one up.
  • Record the planting, growth, and harvesting of your fruit and vegetables. You could do this by taking a series of photos, drawing pictures, or writing a story. You could also make a poster about the benefits of māra kai, or create a menu based on the fruit and vegetables you have planted.
  • Share your māra kai with others — you could invite your friends and whānau to eat a meal based on 'in season' food you have grown.

Useful resources