NEW LIFE: Miria and Taroi Black in the thriving community garden they started on trust-owned land. D8017-06

LIKE the presence of a new born baby, or a puppy, planting and tending a vegetable garden just makes you feel good, say Miria and Taroi Black. “It’s being around new life,” Taroi says.“It’s seeing things grow.”

The couple, who run a homestay in Ohope, initiated the clearing of a small unused piece of family land in Poroporo four years ago, transforming it into a large vegetable garden and expanding it into a community-style garden that could benefit their whanau, friends, and the wider community.

The third of an acre (1348 square metres) is part of a much bigger block that had lain dormant for years. “Our trust leases most of the block to a corn grower, but this piece was too wet for commercial corn growing and really hadn’t been used for anything,” Miria says.

Covered in dense, high-growing blackberry, she says while the berries were great, the land had become an eyesore, and she and Taroi were inspired to do something about it.

“That land was left to us,” Taroi says. “It will go on to be gifted to our children and mokopuna and we wanted to see it used well. It was just sitting there doing nothing.”

After the trust decided to get the blackberry cleared, a big and costly job, Taroi says he was keen to plant the area quickly before it grew back.

With Miria and Taroi sharing a passion for using land wisely, and for the benefit of everyone, the couple initiated the community-style garden where family and friends could collectively grow vegetables, share the work, learn from each other, and share the resulting produce.

Having travelled extensively, Miria says she and Taroi had often been inspired by the clever and productive use of land in other countries; use that benefits both families, and their wider community.

Travelling in Vietnam, “guns at gardening,” Taroi says, and some Pacific Islands, the couple say they have often been reminded that New Zealanders need to make much better use of land, often land held by trusts, but with tracts of it remaining unused.

“Some families today are short of money,” Taroi says. “Land can always provide food, and it’s good for kids to be involved with the work, too. They learn that food doesn’t just come from the supermarket. It’s better for everyone.”

With this in mind, Miria and Taroi, both past retirement age but with their busy lives, and “hardly retired,” set to work on their Poroporo block, recruiting family members and friends along the way.

With its proximity to the river providing it with “rich alluvial soil” the garden is flourishing, tended by a growing number of gardeners. Kamo kamo, pumpkin and squash grow in abundance along with potato and kumara, beetroot, cucumber and melon.

“We’re still learning what will grow well there,” Miria says. “We tried corn but somehow the pukekos got ours before we did,” she laughs. “Someone is growing harakeke now. It’s just trial and error.

“We’ve only grown summer crops so far. We’re not sure what would grow well there in winter and there could be a possibility of flooding.”

For Taroi and Miria though, there hasn’t been time for experimenting with winter crops. Life is busy, and Taroi has recently had operations on both of his ankles. Recovering now, he says his incapacitation hadn’t kept him from his Poroporo block. Taking a chair to sit in so he could still do some weeding, he says his ankles weren’t going to keep him from his garden. “I love it up there.”

But the couple are now putting the word out. The garden is ready for more expansive involvement. A place to grow vegetables and to share the bountiful results – not only the produce, Taroi believes, but benefits that go deeper.

“There’s so much negativity and depression and that sort of thing around these days. People need to get their hands in the soil. They need to plant things and be uplifted by seeing new growth.

“They could come here feeling down, but they will leave feeling happy, I guarantee it.”
People interested in sharing the community-inspired garden can contact Miria or Taroi on 07 3125924.

By Lorraine Wilson