Welcome inn

Guests at Katikati Motel are able to pick fresh organic fruit and vegetables from a new garden – and are then asked to recycle their food scraps to the chickens or worms in a closed-loop fertiliser system.

But when Kate and Kent Pfenning bought the motel a year ago, the garden was an area they called their “problem child”.

“It used to be an old swimming pool,” says Auckland-born Kate. “But it was filled in years ago, planted and walked away from.

“We thought we’d like it as a produce garden but it was physically too overwhelming as to how we could convert it.”


Kate Pfenning in Katikati Motel’s produce garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The couple saw a newsletter about a local permablitz and thought the programme based on the principles of permaculture might meet their needs.

Unfortunately, Kent had farm commitments to meet and flew back to his native North Dakota in the United States the week before the working bee, but Kate decided to go along and was impressed with the camaraderie. “I didn’t know anyone but it all just clicked,” she says.

Before their permablitz last October Kent and one of the local co-ordinators, Hugo Verhagen, broke up the concrete path that had been round the pool and built raised beds and a pergola.

The beds have been designed so the chicken coop fits over them, leaving the hens (which came with the property) to clean up, till and fertilise a bed at a time. There is also a compost heap and worm farm.


Mint grows in a recycled tin. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden is bursting with food, including herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, yams, kumara, beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, grapes, passionfruit, citrus, raspberries and strawberries.


Kent is a third-generation farmer and, since their marriage 18 years ago, Kate has worked with him, raising beef, sheep and crops on a property near the border with Canada.

Until their move to New Zealand with their three school-age sons, Kate had her own business supplying lamb to the restaurant trade.

The couple moved to New Zealand to be closer to Kate’s parents and settled on the motel business having been “frequent receivers of motel hospitality”, she says.

“We may not know the motel business very well but we know business so we were confident we could make it work.”


A nasturtium grows in a retaining wall made from the concrete path around the old pool. Photo: Sandra Simpson

However, the couple couldn’t have afforded to make the garden they now have, courtesy of like-minded people.

“We’re trying to turn the garden into a working business concept – everyone in the motel trade is selling sleep so this is our point of difference.

“People are delighted when I say they can go and help themselves and do they want some eggs too?”

This article, which has been slightly edited, first appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.