This land, just 10kms from where Aaron grew up, used to be kahikatea forest. The kahikatea is New Zealand’s tallest tree, growing up to 60 metres tall or more. Kahikatea stands grow on fertile floodplains, lake margins and riverbanks, and would have connected Lake Poukawa to the south of us with Pekapeka wetlands to the north. With Maori settlement, the forested landscape was changed as areas were burnt off and cleared to grow food. When European settlers arrived, they cleared the remainder, felling or burning the trees, and converting the land to pasture.
When we came here in 2005 it was a bare grazing block. We had been lucky enough to become kaitiaki of it a year earlier, and had fallen head over heels in love with it. We called it Kahikatea Farm in acknowledgement of the history of the area, and also due to the cultural symbolism of these trees, which grow in stands with their roots intertwined to support each other:
Since then we have poured our heart and soul into the land, it has truly become our turangawaewae, our ‘place to stand’. We were novices at the start and have been learning and playing with permaculture design, and have always been open to share our learning with other visitors both formally and informally. We have built a house and nursery, swales (water harvesting ditches on contour) and five ponds. We have planted shelterbelts, 1.5 acres of timber and firewood trees, started planting three acres of wetlands, and planted treecrops and support species in two acres of food forest. We are now adding ground cover species to the food forest, ribbons of natives running through the farm, and have just started a new agroforestry project.
Food forests, agroforestry and silvopasture are key areas of interest for us. Benefits of reforestation for ecological purposes are well documented, but there is now a growing movement of people looking to provide for all their food needs within a perennial system which allows the soil to regenerate and build structure and life without us constantly interfering. There is an urgent need to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil in order to limit further warming of the planet. We can do this whilst also providing for all our needs. Movements such as Permaculture and Regenerative Agriculture are the main inspiration for our mahi here and give us the techniques to build soils, restore watercourses and encourage biodiversity, whilst reducing dependency on external inputs, improving plant, livestock and human health and increasing yields and profitability. As Geoff Lawton puts it ‘All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden.’