Living off the land

02:23, May 18 2012
MENTORS: Jade Temepara with the Southland grandfathers who fostered her love of gardening, Colin Reihana, left, and Keith Dawson, with daughter Preach at the back.

Jade Temepara is a young woman with a mission, to help families grow their own food. Lots of people have passions, especially about gardening, but Jade is a special sort who also inspires.

Although she lives in Ashburton, those abilities were shaped in Southland. Invercargill is her home town and provided an upbringing that fostered an affinity with the land.

She lived here until she was 18, attending Southland Girls' High School and the then Kingswell High School, and now declares herself seriously excited about coming south to share the model for her Hand Over a Hundy project, which won her New Zealand Gardener magazine's Gardener of the Year title.

"I loved my childhood in the south and I'd love be able establish this down there," she says.

On her father's side, she is a member of the Tairi, Davis, Reihana clans, with their muttonbirding connections and rich heritage of living off the land.

On her mother's side, grandfather Keith Dawson had a massive garden at Makarewa where the grandchildren got to both play and eat.


Jade says she spent a lot of time with her grandfathers, absorbing stories of how they grew up, picking up on their frugal ways and ability to maximise resources.

But it wasn't until she had children of her own – she and her husband have four girls – that she picked up the skills and started to use them herself.

Even then, she didn't wake up one day as a great gardener, she says.

"It's a learnt thing."

That's why she is passionate about giving a hand to others, even turning her front lawn into a productive vegetable garden for everyone in Ashburton to see, and shared on the Hand Over a Handy Facebook page.

It's all highly achievable, she says.

Her enthusiasm in person is multiplied by that Facebook page, which offers encouragement galore, including opportunities to brag.

Her social-media site suits the way younger people interact, and photos show whole families mucking in.

That's an extremely important point, Jade says. "It has to be all ages or it doesn't work as well."

The rewards involve more than just food. They include bonding time with children and other gardeners in the scheme, through getting together for shared meals and having speakers.

"That's what it comes down to, making our community a better and richer place to live.

"It's not just about gardening, but about creating a community."

Jade recognises it's not for everyone.

"Some of my friends laugh and say, `You're such a hippy', but they're not at a stage where it's important.

"When I find people who think along the same lines, that's really exciting."

So with the Ashburton project now up and running, Jade is ready to respond to the flood of requests she has received to help get something similar started in other communities.

Southland was the obvious starting point, not only because of her strong ties, but because it's a well-resourced community, with the SIT, media, and people like Robyn and Robert Guyton and their family at the South Coast Environment Centre who have that generational ethos and are involved in passing the skills on.

"I'm so excited, seriously excited."


» Find the Facebook page by searching for Hand-over-a-Hundy.

The scheme is founded on giving a family $100 of start-up credit to buy everything required to put in a food garden – seeds, materials and tools – and providing a mentor.

The challenge is then to grow enough food for themselves, and either save or generate $100 to get another family started the next year.

Of the 23 families to take up the challenge in the project's first two years, all but one have succeeded.

While the families who apply already have a self-starter attitude, the accountability implied in the initial gift is an incentive to succeed, Jade says. If you've been gifted that money, you've got to return it.

Besides recruiting families wanting to grow their own, Jade hopes keen gardeners and garden clubs might get involved to provide the support novices need.

The scheme is a proven success in Ashburton, and offers a model applicable anywhere. "We don't have to reinvent this," she says.

The South Coast Environment Centre is supporting Jade Temepara's Hand Over a Hundy project by hosting her visit, with two opportunities to meet her and hear her speak: Today from 7pm to 9pm (not 7.30pm as previously advised) at the Senior Citizens Rooms, Princess St, Riverton, and tomorrow, from 2pm to 4pm at SIT Hansen Hall, 133 Tay St, Invercargill.

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The Southland Times