Leana and her two children, aged 10 and 2, have been Kāinga Ora customers in Palmerston North for over ten years. Leana always grew food in her own garden, but in 2022 she decided to transform her front yard into a communal garden that both her whānau and neighbours could enjoy.

“I have always been passionate about ‘kai gathering’ whether that be hunting, diving, growing kai, foraging or harvesting,” Leana says.

“The COVID lockdowns and food shortages in supermarkets made me realise just how important it is to grow kai – it helps you to be a bit more self-reliant and share with what you don’t need with those around you. It really helps bring people together.”

Thanks to all the love and time Leana has put into it, the community garden in front of her home is now flourishing. Beautiful big green leaves of lettuce, spinach and kale are ready for anyone picked and enjoy, and Leana recently planted beetroot, carrot and other seedlings which are now waiting to grow.

Kāinga Ora Housing Support Manager Kylie connected her with the Manawatū Food Action Network (MFAN) to help support the initiative. Leana went on to become a MFAN Community Champion and now educates and empowers whānau across Palmerston North through regular gardening activities.

“I’m helping to create small vegetable gardens for whānau. With the help of MFAN, we provide the planter boxes, soil, plants and fruit trees to help whānau - often other Kāinga Ora customers - to get started and learn how to grow kai of their own. I share my knowledge to make sure they can continue their kai growing journey themselves,” Leana says.

Leana wants to teach her 2-year-old girl about growing kai

As well as being a MFAN Community Champion, Leana also volunteers at Community Fruit Harvest Manawatū.

“We pick fruit from the community for the community – collecting fruit that would otherwise go to waste and making it available to those who need it,” says Leana.

“We provide food cupboards around town, and put the fruit we pick and excess kai from our own gardens in them for anyone who needs it.”

Gardening has not only helped Leana reduce her grocery bill, but it has also been really important for her mental health. And now it is her mission to help share her passion for growing kai with others – just like her granddad shared with her.

“It is important to me to teach not only my children but also whānau, friends and neighbours the importance of growing kai and being more self-sufficient.”

“Installing a small vegetable garden has been mana enhancing for all the whānau we help within Palmerston North,” says Leana.

And the positive difference Leana’s work has is long-lasting.

“I receive a lot of messages weeks or months later from excited whānau showing me the kai they have been able to grow,” Leana says.

“Recently, a woman gave me beetroot relish after I supported her with some garden activities. She told me she made it from beetroot her son had grown in the vegetable garden I helped him create. This is a beautiful example of how we grow veggies, share them with family and friends and preserve them by bottling and storing them.

“It fills my wairua knowing how others can be empowered to do this for themselves and their whānau.”

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Page updated: 25 May 2023