Jizzy Green was walking in Katikati with husband Mike when she came up with the idea of planting fruit trees in a public reserve so passersby could help themselves. “I expected the council to say ‘no’,” she laughs, ‘so when they said ‘yes’ I got a fright.”
At the time, almost 7 years ago, Jizzy was teaching at Katikati Kindergarten and had started taking the organisation into the Enviroschools programme and initially saw her fruit tree idea as part of that (the kindergarten achieved Green-Gold Enviroschool status in 2014).
It took 9 months of negotiation before Western Bay of Plenty District Council gave the go-ahead for Gilfillan Reserve to become home to the KatiKaiWay. “We thought wouldn’t it be great for people who don’t have citrus trees in their gardens to have them available here?,” Jizzy says. “Or for children who don’t have access to fresh fruit to just grab some and munch on it straight off the tree.”
Before council staff would endorse the idea, they asked Jizzy to carry out community consultation, primarily with neighbours. Feedback was “very clear” the KaiWay should be organic, which it remains. A planting plan came from landscaper Hugo Verhagen, now of Turangi but at the time a Katikati resident and member of Permablitz BOP. He included beds of one plant, two plants, three plants, four plants and five plants, designed to help youngsters learn to count.
The Fairview Rd kindergarten, a 5-minute walk for small legs from the park, has been behind the KaiWay from the beginning – mums painted a boundary fence and parents and children collected trash before the first 24 trees were planted in 2012.
“Two days after we planted the trees, about five feijoas were removed,” Jizzy says. “So the next year we bought extra feijoas and advertised that anyone who came to help plant could take one home for free.”
Jizzy, who was born in South Africa, has lived in New Zealand for 23 years, 14 of those in Katikati. Although she took 2016 off for health reasons, Jizzy stayed in touch with the KaiWay and last year was keen to renew her involvement.
Elizabeth Rae, a long-time member of the Tree Crops Association, is now supervising the project – both she and husband Bill, who also lends a hand on the KaiWay, have been chair for the local Tree Crops group, while Bill is coming into his fourth year as national chairman.
Fruit available along the KaiWay includes lemons, oranges, mandarins, tangors (mandarin-orange cross), persimmons, feijoas, plums, Chilean guavas and blueberries, as well almonds, a walnut tree and rhubarb. Generally, the fruit trees are of several varieties for a longer cropping season. “Basically, it’s what grows well in the area and what people like,” Elizabeth says.
Trees have also been lost – a nashi contracted fireblight and an almond silverleaf, several citrus were destroyed by vandals and the replacement nashi was stolen as soon as it went in. “We’ll persevere,” Elizabeth says.
The KaiWay has proved beneficial to the reserve and surrounding homes – increased foot traffic has seen problems such as broken glass and tagging decrease markedly – and on the day NZ Gardener visited with a kindy group, the children immediately zeroed in on litter, begging to collect it.
People carrying out community work sentences have spread mulch and kindergarten head teacher Cushla Scott hopes the council will offer more such opportunities. “It’s many hands making light work.”
Because the kindergarten now has many more younger children on its roll, weeding trips aren’t as frequent but groups still help at the KaiWay and late in 2016 were present for the installation of information signs designed by teacher Donya Feci and made by the local Men’s Shed.
It was hoped the project would be taken on by the wider community and although this hasn’t happened yet, the kindergarten continues to pursue that end.
“The KaiWay initiative was our way of trying to educate the community about things we teach at the kindergarten,” Cushla says. “Things like knowing where your food comes from, taking care of it as it grows and showing respect to the soil. They’re important lessons for us all.”
Teachers and children at the kindergarten don’t just talk about sustainability, they practice what they preach every day.
“It all works so well,” Cushla says. “We grow our own food from heritage seeds, we recycle, compost, have a worm farm, collect rainwater, have no-waste water use and being an EnviroSchool means all our purchasing is done through a green lens.
[March 21 update: The kindy has become the first school in the Bay of Plenty to be awarded the Beyond Green-Gold status recognising its commitment to the environment.]
“We have lots of testimonials that the kids are taking it home and teaching their parents and grandparents! Our next learning step is to save seed from our vege garden.”
The playground features a custom-made adobe and wood area for imaginative play (including a ‘hobbit house’ with a living roof), as well as a custom-made ‘challenging play’ area. A child-sized maimai looks on to bird feeders and a bird bath in a quiet corner.
Re-useable food wraps, made locally, are sold at the kindy as part of the ‘litterless lunchboxes’ campaign. Also on sale are natural toothbrushes, fire bricks made from recycled paper, plant seedlings and ‘worm wine’ made from the kindy’s worm farm. The kindergarten is also involved in a plan to make Katikati an Envirotown.
Weeding takes place at the KatiKaiWay on the first Friday of the month from 9am-noon, all welcome. Meet at the Gilfillan Dr entry.
This article first appeared in NZ Gardener and is published here with permission.