"Ko te wai te toto o te whenua
Ko te whenua te toto o te tangata"

As water is the blood of the land
So the land is the blood of humanity


We began our journey in July 2016 with 68 backyard gardens placed at the backyards of whanau/families and kindergartens across Rotorua in the space of one week.  It was a demonstration of how a community can galvanize itself and engage a group of passionate volunteers.   

We began as the Rotorua Local Food Network using a multi-pronged approach to address food security and food systems, a key component of which is focusing on traditional Maori food crops namely kumara and riwai (Maori potato)

The aim of the network was to make healthy, locally grown food affordable and accessible for our whole community, and to support sustainable, local food business & farming to thrive.

We are passionate about food. Good healthy, nutritional food that is. Why? Because our food chain is broken. The quality of our food, is seriously compromised with countless fast food outlets, processed food and food wrapped in plastic.

“Many of us today are disconnected from our food – we eat out of supermarkets and cafes and put our trust in these business to provide us with good food. Many common food production methods in use today are not sustainable long term, and the food choices we make every day can help deliver the change needed”. 
Jasmin Jackson
Nutritionist and Kai Rotorua founder

Vision, Purpose, Values and Structure

kumara basket

Our Vision

A resilient, well-nourished, well-connected community.

Our Purpose

Reconnect us to Papatuanuku through Kai.

Our Values

Health and Wellbeing
  Accessing quality, affordable nutritious food.
Community Commitment
Members working collaboratively to achieve our shared outcomes.
Curiosity, Adventurousness and Exploration
Food that is culturally appropriate and within the limits of our climate and environment.
Creativity and Ingenuity
Meaning we will work and create an ecologically and socially sustainable local food system which minimizes carbon emissions.
Passionate and fun
Comes with the work of our community and support of the people, the role that is played by everyone in creating great kai is valued.
Giving back to the richness of the soil and maintaining cultural awareness, within the limits of our climate and environment.
Be inspirational
Help educate our young to support our community and gain knowledge and understanding of food (including nutrition, growing and cooking).
Social enterprise and economic development
We support and endorse the establishment of local food businesses and social enterprises that contributes to a healthy community.


Kai Rotorua

Volunteers improving the food system through indigenous kai and community participation.

For the last 30 years, Rotorua has produced meat and dairy but little else in terms of food, with the exception of one local orchard. Food insecurity affects a large proportion of our population, with nearly a third reporting that they go without fruit and vegetables in order to pay their bills. Māori are disproportionately affected by food insecurity; many have lost their connection with Papatūānuku and have grown up without the traditional knowledge around how to grow their own kai.


Kai Rotorua is a non-profit, volunteer organisation made up of over 130 individuals and others. It is using a multi-pronged approach to address food security including:

  • Building free veggie gardens in people’s backyards across Rotorua.
  • Teaching children and adults to grow traditional Māori food crops including kumara and Māori riwai (potato). In particular karoro, moemoe and taewa.
  • Providing people with plants, not food so that they can grow kai themselves.
  • Teaching people how to cook meals using traditional ingredients with other vegetables.
  • Work with the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), scientists at Scion and students using 3D printing technology, traditional knowledge and the kūmara to execute a Curious Minds Project.
  • Working towards a Living Building Challenge food hub for Rotorua, which will house local ‘good-food’ social enterprises. It will also function as a hub for educational gardening and cooking classes as well as good food businesses.


  • Kai is a significant part of Māori culture, but many of us have lost the connection with Papatūānuku and where our kai actually comes from.  By reconnecting whanau with Papatūānuku, Kai Rotorua is igniting an interest in healthy food as a means of connecting us to our heritage as well as the obvious health benefits.

Key Personnel

Warren Rehu

Cat Jehly

Yumiko McGovern

Projects Lead
Te Rangikaheke Kiripatea

Board Members
Ian McBride, Sabine Willemsen, Tania Te Whenua, Fisher Wang, Harina Rupapera

Advisory Team
Ben Sandford, Legal.  Sandford & Partners, Rotorua
Dr Hugh Jellie, Director.  ATA Regenerative
Jade Kameta, Healthy Families, Rotorua
Carli Ebbett, DELOITTE
Cerasela Stancu, Sustainability Director, EnviroStrat Ltd
Stephen Rowe, BNZ Partners, Rotorua