Kaipara Kai Hub

May 2021

A support hub established to drive innovation, economic returns and community wellbeing.

The Kaipara Kai Hub is an on-the-ground support hub in the Dargaville region, established to drive innovation, economic returns from the land, and community wellbeing. They work alongside landowners, including local iwi Te Roroa, whom they’re supporting in their vision to sustainably manage their land to grow profits and their people.


Kaipara Kai is one of four Kaipara KickStart projects funded by the Provincial Growth Fund and led by Kaipara District Council to grow the economy and wellbeing of the people in Northland. The Kaipara Kai Hub works alongside landowners (both new and established farmers and growers, and iwi) to help drive innovation. The hub was established after an extensive research phase by Kaipara Kai. This included a feasibility study to identify new crops; topo-climate, water and soil research; market analysis, and an activation plan. The activation plan identified ‘on the ground support’ as important to realise the full potential of the area for food production.


The Northland area has been long recognised as a food producing area. Local iwi Te Roroa are known as the gardeners of the North and there is an extensive history of iwi gardening in the area. As early as 1900 the area was recognised as a potential food basket for Auckland. The recent research highlights the area as being the largest area of high grade soil north of Pukekohe. Yet the area has been underperforming in relation to neighbouring areas. In 2019 the agricultural GDP per square kilometre was $112,700 compared with a 66% better performance of $186,900 in the Whangarei district.


The Kaipara Kai hub launched in a building in Ruawai in early 2020. Their core work is to facilitate for food producers and the wider food ecosystem in the district by promoting access to information, networking, technology, market access, community development, education and training; and to grow the confidence of landowners seeking to diversify. They’re also involved in a number of growing trials in the area.


Kai Hub Manager Matt Punter explains that ‘face to face’ conversation and the ability to be a sounding board is the key to driving change in the area. He’s also quick to point out the importance of recognizing that there is no single template, that different landowners have different goals, measures of success and ways of working.  Understanding these allows him and 2IC Lana Kennett to identify exactly what any particular landowner needs. Matt acknowledges working with iwi is a journey, to build and sustain over the long term.


Matt has been working alongside local iwi, Te Roroa. Te Roroa settled [their Treaty claim] in 2008. They have extensive land and business interests in the area. The trust is based by Tane Mahuta, the world-renowned kauri tree in their forest. Te Roroa have 6 farms, a thriving honey business (Waipoua Manuka Honey), forestry, and interests in tourism. 


Over the last twelve years Te Roroa has worked with a strong vision to move from passive landlords to productive farmers. As leases expire, the iwi has taken over management of their land. The immediate mahi has been around recovery of rundown properties. This has involved significant work to upgrade infrastructure such as water systems.


General Manager Snow Tane and the team of kaimahi are looking at all the options available to them. The farms were predominantly run as sheep and beef operations, however they’re keen to explore what is best for the land and for their people, and this means restoring the land, running sustainable operations and creating work. Further, the farms are important in order for the iwi to continue to fund their environmental programmes and support their kaitiaki responsibilities. Te Roroa are also heavily involved in ongoing research around kauri dieback – a disease that threatens both their revered kauri, including Tane Mahuta, and a number of their tourism-based businesses.


Snow observes, “As a tribe, it is true to say that we are relatively new to business. That said, many of our own whānau have been working in these kinds of  businesses all of their lives. In time, with good people, outside help and whānau focus we will become masters at these activities.” One ally has been the Kaipara Kai Hub. They’re working with the organisation on different crop trials with peanuts and watermelons, new varieties of sweet corn, squash, and soy beans. Snow says they are going into this with both eyes open and they want to do something different and get a jump on the market.


The trials are assessing water use for the crops, how well the crops grow on different soils, and can the crops achieve production levels that make conversion from sheep and beef worthwhile – from both an economic and sustainability angle. Kaipara Kai Hub has been leading the trials and Snow says the next step is for Matt to work with their people to pass over assessment and maintenance work, in order to grow leadership and confidence. 

Showdown Productions Ltd.   Rural Delivery Series 16 2021