The garden that Mike King has developed at Ōtaki College is a stand-out success story.
Mike took on the project of re-establishing the garden in the middle of last year, with funding from the New Zealand Community Trust. That funding, and a new grant this year from Nikau Foundation, has allowed Mike to reinvigorate the area named Ahoaho (open space). But the funding will keep Mike at the college only until about July, so new funds are required to allow him to carry on the great work.
The gardens had been established as a horticultural block for the college decades ago, but without dedicated funds it had fallen into serious disrepair. When Ōtaki Today visited Ahoaho in October, Mike had begun the laborious job of clearing away timber and other junk. With the help of students and volunteers, weeds were being pulled, sheds tidied and new sheeting placed on the torn covering for the greenhouse. Mike’s vision – clear in his head but perhaps not evident to anyone seeing the work required – was starting to take shape.
Six months later and the transformation is remarkable. The whole space is now lush and inviting. Mike has created an oasis in the busy, often noisy world of college education.
There are rows of vegetables intermixed with herbs, fruit trees bearing apples and figs, immaculate work sheds with spades and shovels hanging on the wall, extensive compost heaps, an outdoor pizza oven, and even hanging bags from which mushrooms sprout.
The greenhouse has a new covering allowing it to be available for college and community use.
During the 20 hours a week Mike officially works at Ahoaho, students come in either individually or in small groups to help out. They are sometimes kids who just need some time out from the rigours of school work, or who have other challenges in their life. They learn about growing and tending plants, how to look after the tools and how to use various edible plants.
As a keen forager and maker of ice-creams flavoured with unusual plants, Mike also offers his ice-cream treats, which are always a hit.
“Being here calms the kids down,” Mike says.
Teachers sometimes also use the greenhouse as a classroom, giving kids a break from their usual indoor environment. And with the plentiful supply of fruit and vegetables, all of which is grown organically, the teachers have been getting a box of Ahoaho’s bounty every Monday.
The widely available accessibility – to the community as well – is one of the features of Ahoaho, and could be at least a partial solution to the need for ongoing funding.
The college has allowed Mike to develop the garden so he can establish a commercial operation, complementary to foraging tours he also runs in Ōtaki. It would provide an income that could offset the need for wages.
Already he has been offering ice-cream tasting sessions, the most recent last Saturday night (April 9) in the greenhouse. There are no doubt more to come.