Waitara, a small community of about 7,000 people in north Taranaki, is home to a growing movement focussed on food security and resilience, partially delivered through education about growing kai and then preparing and cooking that produce.

A Food Security and Resilience Research Report completed by Waitara Foodbank – Pātaka Kai and Sustainable Taranaki, resulted in the development of a Food Secure Communities Plan for Taranaki, raising awareness about food security and food resilience.

The World Health Organisation defines food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. This exists when there is a reliable supply and access for people to healthy foods that are culturally acceptable, nutritiously adequate, affordable, and safe. The definition of food security is also moving towards inclusion of sustainable production methods.

The inspiration for the report came from the impacts of COVID-19 on the community and the cost-of-living crisis impacting Aotearoa. The groups involved wanted to work collectively, empower whānau, bring sovereignty back to whānau by reducing reliance on foodbank services and outside sources, and create a community that was self-sufficient.

The report highlighted whānau from all walks of life were needing help with food and identified multiple barriers for whānau to access nutritious food. A major barrier identified was affordable produce, with fresh produce being the first food eliminated from a grocery list. At the same time, local growers approached Waitara Foodbank – Pātaka Kai offering to grow food for them and asking for a group of volunteers to help maintain the land and look after the crops.

These findings have resulted in several communitybased initiatives in Taranaki dedicated to providing solutions to the food security issue. Waitara Foodbank – Pātaka Kai and Sustainable Taranaki realised that food security and sustainability needed to be considered together when responding to food insecurity, with environmental, social and economic factors also considered during solution-seeking within a community.

The report also identified a vision for the future of the project that included, among other things, taking a te ao Māori perspective, building self-reliance, taking a collaborative approach, and incorporating education as part of the solution. This includes understanding where food comes from and knowing the processes to get food to the table; learning about healthy food and how to use it, understanding seasonal produce and incorporating sustainable methods like composting and seed-saving.

Pātaka Kai and Sustainable Taranaki haven’t wasted any time putting the report recommendations into action with Amy Olsen, Manager of Waitara Foodbank – Pātaka Kai and a chef by trade, starting cooking lessons for foodbank clients.

“We’ve worked very hard at Pātaka Kai to be welcoming and transparent, and more recently we have seen an enhanced need for the foodbank. Clients started asking us for help with cooking the fresh produce we offered, so we started with a nine-week introductory course to cooking.”

Dishes they’ve been sharing include how to cook a quiche, a risotto, chop suey and kofta. “We always include fresh vegetables and a dessert,” Amy says.

Funding for the initial course was from the New Plymouth District Council and Toi Foundation. “And additional community funding has meant we have subsequently been able to extend the course to twelve weeks. This has enabled us to add in three weeks of Indian cooking classes.”

Since the cooking classes started, Pātaka Kai has also secured funding to run two courses next year.

“Our community has been amazing,” Amy says. “We’ve had 16 people attending free weekly cooking classes at Waitara High School. During this time friendships have been made and recipes shared. The experience has exceeded expectations.”

Amy says it’s easy to think that everyone can cook simple dishes from scratch, but they’ve learnt that’s not the case.

“We had a request to teach how to poach an egg. As a chef that’s a simple request, but for many people on the course learning how to cook the perfect poached egg was a new experience. We’ve also been teaching people about using the whole vegetable, such as the stalk of the broccoli. In one class we showed how to chop and dice the stalks and then cook them as an additional vegetable. People didn’t know that you could do this.” They also teach their learners standard basic techniques, like how to make a basic crumble that can then be turned into a scone mixture or dough.

“The success of this learning project has come down to a supportive and collaborative community approach and one of the things that has been particularly positive is the link with Sustainable Taranaki and Kōia,” Amy says. “We are all part of a strong movement in the Taranaki region to achieve food security through community and education.”

The second arm of the food security journey is Kōia – mana kai, mana tangata (Gardening for wellbeing) – a holistic, gardening-based health initiative that’s the brainchild of local doctors Kiyomi Kitagawa and Yu-Ching Yu.

Kōia builds on the existing national Green Prescription and encourages participation in community gardening to boost physical, spiritual, emotional/ mental and family/social well-being, by embedding positive behaviour change.

According to project manager Steve Francis, Kōia not only supports hauora of individuals and communities, but also supports food resilience, selfdetermination, the environment/te taiao, community and social cohesion.

“Kōia provides people with access and support to adopt a regular gardening practice for well-being, The Kōia project is in its co-design and trial stage until mid-2024, with operational roll-out following that. The longer-term ambition is to make Kōia available across Aotearoa”.