A mouthful of fresh produce and ideas

| By Enviroschools Waikato team

Rongomātāne: associated with garden crops, e.g. kūmara, hue, and having attributes of order, provision, cultivation and peacefulness.

Planting the idea

Planning for the Waikato Enviroschools Māra Kai Challenge began at the beginning of Term 1 2022, when the Waikato facilitation team asked schools, “What healthy, inspiring delights can you produce from your school garden?”  This challenge was to be run by Enviroschools Waikato between schools in several rohe round the region over this first half of 2022. The Waikato team were grateful to facilitators Kirsty and Kauri from the Enviroschools Tairāwhiti team for the sharing of their Māra Kai event planning and reflections first run in 2013.

Healthy kūmara growing at Paeroa College before harvest.

The purpose of the event series was to get as many students as possible engaged with both growing and cooking food, learning along the way, in a contextual way, about sustainable kai such as feeding the soil, seed saving, seasonal growing, preparing, eating and sharing food that is locally grown, healthy and waste free. It was also seen as an opportunity to create a buzz and build connections, kanohi ki te kanohi!

In their planning and working with teachers, facilitators looked at ways to:

  • encourage student empowerment through the likes of the Enviroschools Living Landscapes learning approach (including finding out about local food sources) wellbeing and leadership
  • encourage creativity and enterprise
  • provide an authentic context for Science, Technology, English and Maths learning


Kalarni from Horotiu rinses soil from the freshly harvested salad vegetables.

Sixteen schools across the region were inspired to participate. They engaged in brainstorming what could be grown in their gardens between February and May, and then what delicious recipes would showcase this fresh produce they were growing and gathering. Planning and planting began, and a few challenges were met along the way!

Term 2 approached, and students started harvesting some of their fresh fruit and vegetables and seeking fruit in their neighbourhood so they could test recipes.

A number of schools held competitions between classes to decide on who would represent them in the Waikato Māra Kai Challenge and what recipes worked well with the ingredients available.

Up for a challenge

Competing teams were made up of 4 students: 2 chefs and 2 gardeners (sous chefs!) and were supported by a teacher/adult. Teams had 2 hours on the day of the challenge to prepare, cook and plate up a hot dish, salad/side and dessert or drink for the judges. Chefs described their dish and explained how the school-grown ingredients were selected. Recipes developed by students needed to have at least 5 of the ingredients grown at school or in a home garden. Some recipes included microgreens, edible flowers and herbs and “weed” greens, in addition to fruit and vegetables.

Hukanui students explain how their sustainable backyard and gardens were planned, planted and maintained.

On the day of the “Challenge”, the gardeners delivered a presentation to judges and fellow competitors about the food they had grown, including photos of the garden with nutritional information added.

Judges then tasted the kai the chefs had prepared and used an assessment criteria rubric that took into account teamwork, nutrition, quality of produce, and how well the kai was presented and how it tasted!




Tasty Treats at Taupō

The first event was held in Taupō. Waipahihi School triumphed with incredible hand-made gnocchi in tomato sauce, with Tauhara Primary School coming in a very close second with the tastiest cheesy herb crustless quiche and beetroot salad. Delicious! Coriander Lime Kitchen owner Katherine Froggatt-Ong was guest judge and amazingly positive and helpful on the day.

At school, our vege gardens are thriving. Looking at our produce we think a nice salad with roast beetroot is on the menu for the next kitchen challenge.  The Māra Kai Challenge was a nerve-racking day but one we all agreed was up there with one of the best ever days at school.   – from the Māra Kai chefs at Waipahihi school, students Harley, Emily, Oliver and Jayden.

Taupō students work carefully through their recipes.

There was a lot of learning along the way.








Paeroa puts produce on a plate

A huge choice of locally grown vegetables was on offer at Paeroa.

Paeroa College held their own Enviroschools Māra Kai Challenge. Students had grown produce in the school’s Māra Kai/food gardens and horticulture department vegetable beds. These ingredients were backed up with home-grown kai to create delicious recipes. There were some amazing taewa/Māori potatoes, kūmara, and colourful corn along with tomatoes, fruit and herbs used.

The meals were prepared in the technology block under the guidance of Mr Knyvett and Mrs Walker. The judges, who had the pleasure of tasting these dishes, were Brad King of Falls Retreat Restaurant in the Karangahake Gorge and Councillor Duncan Smeaton of Hauraki District Council. Brad gave the students a demonstration of his skills by preparing a delicious radish and kale kimchi that went fantastically with the school lunch for the day, Shepherd’s pie. Joined by Jenni and Michelle of the Waikato Regional Council education team, the judges discussed the recipes developed from the school gardens and enjoyed the delicious kai prepared by the students.

Brad King prepares kimchi at Paeroa.

Chef Brad demonstrating techniques.








Everyone was blown away by the high standard of the produce, the students’ knowledge of their ingredients, as well as the tasty and nutritious kai: kale crisps with hummus and falafel, the healthiest of burgers, deconstructed flatbread lasagne and a fantastic chicken curry. The drinks, made from fruit and vegetables from the garden were a hit and the judges were amazed that you can milk a kūmara! The smell of the cooking drew in teachers from around the campus.

Many thanks to Mitre 10 who provided some goodies for students to help their gardens continue to flourish. This will be the launch pad for the college to include Māra Kai into their junior science curriculum programme and was a great experience for all.

“I can cook, I didn’t know I could do that….but I’m not telling my mum!” – participant (name with-held in case Mum finds out how well they can cook).

High standard at Centre for Hospitality

Marion Catholic chefs and gardeners talk to judges about their creations.

The Enviroschools Māra Kai Challenge at Wintec Centre for Hospitality in Hamilton was won by Kio Kio School, with handmade pita bread packed full of delicious goodness. Special thanks were given to our fantastic judges, Jason Wade (current NZ Masterchef competitor) and Kate Dermer-McGregor from Garden to Table. They loved trying the delicious kai and shared their cooking wisdom with the students.


Mitre 10 again provided some goodies for students and supplied $50 vouchers to help get schools gardens growing.

Pekapekarau students look happy with the kai creations.

The Enviroschools Waikato facilitation team were blown away by the high standard of tasty and nutritious kai prepared. St Columba’s Catholic students made the most incredible wontons and edible flower salad, St Peter’s Cambridge students made crepes with chestnut flour and the best ever broccoli salad! Marian Catholic School Hamilton students had to share out their dip with all the visiting adults because it was so good and Pekapekarau school had a tasty cheesy vege bake that filled up hungry pukus!



Creative combinations in Kitchen

Looking proud and professional – Rhode Street chefs with their culinary delights including potato croquettes and berry drink.

At the Hamilton Māra Kai Challenge hosted by Hukanui School, the Living Room Kitchen was a-buzz all morning as students started cutting, blitzing and flipping the fresh and delicious produce that they had grown in their school and home gardens over the two terms. All students (from Rhode Street Primary, Hukanui School and Horotiu School) ‘owned’ the kitchen as they prepared 3 delicious dishes for judges Katie Pervan-Deare and Kate Dermer-McGregor.

Rhode Street students presented creative recipes that included potato croquettes and a delicious berry drink that the judges thought could be sold commercially.


Abigail from Hukanui prepares the perfect crepe.

Hukanui had excellent understanding of where their food came from, how they grew it and nutritional values and had some ‘bang-on’ crepes filled with beautifully complimentary seasonal fruit.

The Horotiu team brought everything together and came out on top with a simple and very well executed menu that had great flavour combinations including ‘perfect’ feijoa muffins. They also showed a strong work ethic, which their heads down from the start, working steadily through the morning and supporting each other.

Everyone had a fabulous day and came away with full bellies and feeling very inspired! A big shout out to our judges, Garden to Table and Mitre 10 for support and sponsorship and of course Hukanui Primary for hosting the event in their beautiful Living Room Kitchen!

Food for thought

Treats for Tauhara.

The quality of the kai at all the events was outstanding, and students gained skills and built confidence through the process of planning, growing, testing, overcoming challenges and delivering on the day. The aim of creating a buzz and networking was certainly met with students and teachers lit up on the day and a lot of connections made between participants, partners and communities.

Reflecting on the Waikato Māra Kai Challenge, facilitators thought that it was well worth running again, with some adjustments to communication and the judging criteria. They also thought there was potential to develop the challenge further in consultation with Secondary Schools’ Science and Food Technology (maybe linking to NCEA) as well as build on opportunities to collaborate.

Pineapple perfection.

Team approach at Paeroa.








Kōrero from Kio Kio

 Because only one team from each school could enter the challenge all students keen to participate held a competition in class first. Five teams of four students were tasked with planning their menu and planting all the ingredients they would need using Kio Kio School’s vegetable gardens and tunnel house. They were then responsible for caring for and watering the plants. Each group was given a day in week two of Term 2 to complete their cook off in the school’s rec centre kitchen with all ingredients and equipment being the responsibility of team members. From the school cook off Karla, Zhana, Ruby and Ryan were chosen to represent the school, having to fine tune recipes and harvest just before traveling to Wintec.

A focused approach to great kai.

Karla, Zhana, Ruby and Ryan from Kio Kio used 17 school-grown ingredients in a pita pocket. The pocket was made from scratch then filled it with spicy chicken and school-grown produce and served with a homemade cucumber dressing, ‘slinky’ fries and freshly squeezed tangelo and orange juice.

Karen Coleman, their teacher, said students had to organise all ingredients and special equipment to take with them to Windows Restaurant and hospitality teaching rooms at Wintec Rotokauri campus. She was impressed with the efforts of all the teams in the competition, particularly with how her students worked together.

“The dishes and presentations from all groups were amazing. For example, one school group (St Peter’s Cambridge) made their flour out of chestnuts grown at their school. I was impressed with how our team worked so well together and how they were 100% focused on what they had to achieve in the time given. They listened to one another, prioritised and were extremely organised. I think one of their highlights was when they saw their pita pocket rising in the pan like they wanted it to. They were stoked to win.” – Karen Coleman, Deputy Principal, Kio Kio School