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Feed and Build Community before Debates and Travel Bubbles

April 6, 2021

In a time of unprecedented uncertainty about our protection from a deadly disease and the future of the planet it can often be helpful to look back at how our parents and grandparents managed in the face of adversity. They fed and clothed often quite large families through the very tough times of the major economic depression of the 1930s and the dreadful uncertainties of two world wars. In addition, they helped others less fortunate than themselves in an age when that was a traditional responsibility.  

In those times self-reliance was not the stuff of idealistic new-age permaculture advocates or the philosophy of time-warp hippies. It was an essential element of survival when illness and malnutrition were real threats for children and adults alike. Past generations found or invented their own solutions.     

Today we are also faced with major problems on two fronts but few can agree on long-term or even short- term solutions. In spite of our success in keeping Covid 19 out of the community the deadly virus still lurks just beyond our closed borders like a ferret slinking up and down the netting fence of the henhouse looking for a way in. A tiny gap in that safety barrier could have catastrophic consequences even if most of the hens are blissfully asleep on their perches and unaware of the danger.

Keeping the virus out has also meant closing borders to tourists and imposing movement restrictions which resulted in job losses and business failures. In spite of the recurring outbreaks of Covid-19 in Australia there are still irresponsible calls for border restrictions to be relaxed regardless of the risks to community health.  

On a second front we have talked, debated and argued about climate change and what we should do about it, if anything at all, for more than forty years. Most people however now accept that doing nothing will bring short term economic impacts and long-term disaster for all of us but there are still those who resist any move to slow down or modify those activities which are causing most of the problem. Foremost among those activities is large scale food production which too many of us have come to rely on instead of growing our own. Now we have a generation of adults who have never learned how to establish or manage a vegetable garden much less how to care for a few egg producing hens.      

Recently the Climate Change Commission released a report calling for major and dramatic changes to the way we operate our farms, generate electricity and even the cars we drive in response to a looming climate crisis. Already vested interests have picked holes in the report and so we embark on yet another round of pointless pedantic debate while long term community health and wellness remain at risk.   

Then, like a tiny torch light on a dark night of indecision and inaction, a Te Kuiti woman finally succeeded in doing what our grand parents did to look after their families and neighbours in difficult times; she started a big community vegetable garden almost single handed. 

Last year Michelle Wi, turned a section of land at Te Kuiti into a community garden with free produce for anyone who is prepared to pitch in and help. Several previous attempts to turn the section into a vegetable garden came to nothing but, through persistence and hard work, Wi has taken the project to a success. She was one of many made redundant with the turn down in the tourist industry but was not prepared to stay home with nothing to do all day.  

Now she has a team of young helpers, a flock of hens and makes deliveries of fresh produce to social service groups who then distribute it to those in need. All this for no personal reward beyond the real pleasure of helping others in time of need. 

In addition to the fresh vegetables the garden has become a social gathering place where volunteers show up to learn, work, chat and make new friends. Last year Wi was among several people awarded the KiwiBank Local Hero Medal for her work at the garden.

Those who argue endlessly about climate change or demand the reopening of our borders to foreign tourists for their own benefit and in spite of the obvious danger of importing Covid-19 to New Zealand would do well to take a day trip to Te Kuiti. Take a cut lunch, a pair of stout boots and a hoe. Get a few blisters and give this inspirational woman a hand in her garden and learn about genuine selfless service to community health and wellness. Such people are our true heroes in difficult times.