9 May 2021

Soil sovereignty with Dr Jessica Hutchings

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:04 pm on 9 May 2021

Soil sovereignty is a kaupapa Māori approach to organic farming, which views soil as a living tāonga - not a commodity.

Dr Jessica Hutchings (Ngai Tahu, Gujarati, Ngāti Huirapa) tells Justine Murray about the maara kai (food garden) on her lifestyle block in Kaitoke.

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Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Dr Hutchings' lifestyle block is nestled below the Remutaka Ranges. 

It’s a piece of land she purchased sixteen years ago, and today it's surrounded by fruit trees, vegetables and a hothouse.

The apples she grows are used to make apple cider vinegar. She also makes hot compost and from time to time has to cope with pests.

‘I’ve got pukekos and rabbits… pest management is a major and possums eat all the harvest from the fruit trees… and the other thing, too, is living at the bottom of the Remutaka hill there’s the wind factor. I get tomato plants and cucumbers up and get two days of wind and the whole thing's over…actually that makes me cry."

Dr Jessica Hutchings is a keen organic farmer.

Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

A few metres from Dr Hutchings' front gate, her sheep are grazing.

On the property, she also has goats, a makeshift cabin and a shade house where she used to propagate native seeds. Today it's home to blueberries and grapes.

A former academic, in recent years Dr Hutchings has written about soil as a tāonga, and that enhancing its mana is a way of connecting with Papatuānuku (earth mother) and Ranginui (Sky father). 

An advocate of biodynamics, she works alongside Te Waka Kai Ora and her peers to promote soil health and food security.

“I had a happy dinner plate last night because everything was from the farm, and it’s not just that the food was from the farm but it’s really that thing of everything was from the earth… the water and the air, you’re eating the cultural landscape... There’s something very restorative and nurturing about eating food that’s not out of plastic, that hasn’t needed oil in its production method through transportation or food supply, pesticides or chemicals... it’s a big part of wellbeing for me.”

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Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

In Dr Hutchings' 2020 book Te Mahi Oneone Hua Parakore: A Māori Soil Sovereignty and Wellbeing Handbook (co-edited with Jo Smith) she explores Māori relationships with soil and food security.

The book outlines an indigenous framework that underpins soil as a tāonga developed by Te Waka Kai Ora (The National Māori Organics Authority) that includes Mana (authority) and Mauri (life force). It features organic-based food recipes and profiles Māori organic farmers.

Panicked food-buying in the wake of Covid-19 led to more shoppers buying seedlings to start their own vege patches and think more about food security, Dr Hutchings says.

“Since the Covid lockdown, it’s just been right at the forefront of everything… We’re right on conversations around what food security is, we’re beginning to have conversations as whanau Māori. My first book Te Mahi Hua Para Kore (2015) was all about Māori food sovereignty.”

Dr Jessica Hutchings is a director, Kaupapa Māori researcher, author and yoga teacher.

Dr Jessica Hutchings with Tahi

Dr Jessica Hutchings with Tahi Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray