By Michael Reynolds, of Roimata Food Commons and Toha Kai
I have been working at the intersection of community development, food justice & sovereignty, and long term systems thinking for nearly 10 years.
I am a big picture thinker, a creator, a doer and a companion within ecologies.
I love seeing life thrive…
Our food system is broken, which may not come as a surprise to anyone here. While we’re in a cost of living crisis, supermarkets are reportedly making in excess of $1,000,000 profit per day (‘profit’ being over and above covering their costs) being one stark reflection of this. It is just one of many broken social systems in our beautiful country of Aotearoa. It is hard to think about these things, as it can get overwhelming pretty quickly.
But there is reason to be optimistic…
I believe that many of the solutions to the core problems we face are inherently simple. Starting with a change in the way we see the world, small actions can snowball from there.
The world is a complex system of relationships that are bound through the movement and transformation of energy. As you will know, energy is life and life is the embodiment of energy. They cannot be separated. It is this relationship that we need to re-enliven. Once we can connect to this truth, we start to see the world in a different way. We start to honour energy and life, rather than over-consume it.
Kai is at the core.
Back in 2017 I was the chief mischief maker behind the formation of the Roimata Food Commons in Ōtautahi. Radley Park, in the relatively low income suburb of Woolston, was close to where I lived – it was large and under-utilised by the community. It was disconnected rather than embraced. It was managed, instead of being honoured.
I got permission to plant 30 heritage fruit trees and haven’t looked back.
We now have over 100 heritage fruit and nut trees that are part of ever evolving permaculture food forest systems. We are organic in practice. We managed to get all spraying contracts for the park canceled. We have added an educational vegetable garden and people gathering area, plus planted over 1000 native plants along the Ōpawaho.
The space operates on a Commons basis, which for us means that anyone can forage for kai at any time on any day. We do not own the kai. We are merely stewards of the life & energy patterns that move across the landscape. We do this as a practice of reciprocity.
Not one to shy away from hard mahi, in 2021 we launched Toha Kai – a non profit business that sells affordable, locally focused, organic fruit and vege boxes across the city, and now beyond.
We have grown from a 20 whānau 4-week trial, to 80-100 boxes every week in just 2 years, with one paid employee.
The next step is a logical one – we need to start growing kai.
Why? The way kai is grown is blind to the relationship of energy. In fact, in most cases, it takes more energy to produce, process, package, transport and dispose of kai than the energy in the kai itself.
We need to reverse this.
So, an integral part of our new farms is that we are setting up a research project to explore how we can create Net Energy Positive growing systems.
There are 2 steps to this.
Firstly we need to take stock of as many as possible of the energy costs we are creating for the living world – at this stage it is mostly transportation costs.
This is the easier bit – we have already identified a raft of different ways of growing food that will reduce our energy costs:
- Minimising external inputs.
- Using human powered tools rather than fossil fueled machinery.
- Selling as locally as possible.
- Harvesting as close to distribution day as possible to reduce energy used by refrigeration.
- Using our cargo e-trike to deliver boxes wherever practical.
Next, we need to set up a measurement system for how all the energy gains within the system.
Not only the calories of kai produced (that’s easy) but also how we recognise an increase in life both above and within our soils. If our system is more alive, then it inherently has more energy.
More energy means more life…more abundance…more health…more joy!
We want to share the outcomes to the world in the form of an open source framework to guide people on this journey.
We want to make this change with our community rather than to it.
There are many things yet to re-discover. This is only the beginning and it’s more fun to travel together. We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to allow people to invest in a just and equitable future of nourishing kai for Waitaha/Canterbury. If you want to be involved in supporting ous mission for food sovereignty, head to https://support.tohakai.org to find out about our current campaign.
Michael Reynolds is a co-founder of Toha Kai, as well as being founder & Kaitiaki of Roimata Food Commons.
He has a passion for developing food sovereignty and increasing the accessibility of local, healthy food. Through this work, Michael empowers people to increase their sense of wellbeing, while also nourishing a healthy planet.
Michael is “always up for a yarn” – you can find him at Roimata Food Commons on Wednesday and Friday mornings.