A story of Melinda Hatherly's and Murray Jones’ loving relationship with Pīwakawaka Farm
Written by Melinda Hatherly
It was very early on a spring morning in 2003, that Murray and I parked in the driveway of 673 Papaiti Road, climbed the hill facing Te Awa Tupua [aka Whanganui River], and stood, in awe, on the flat at the top of that hill. We watched the sunrise over the distant hills with rays spreading out over those huge ancient river flats in front of us to the east. We could see Kaiwhaiki Marae to the north and Upokongaro village to the south-east, the farm behind us to the west, and regenerative bush-clad hills to our south. Below us, our region’s mighty awa flowed by...We were in bliss.
The then owner/caretaker of 673, John, had long been thinking about selling up and moving to a smaller farm, knew we were looking, and invited us to take a look. Twenty months later, John had moved to his new farm near Hunterville, and Murray and I were the delighted and honoured owners of 71.3 hectares of this beautiful whenua of a rich mix of soils; rolling to hill country; ancient embedded river rock seams, and shell-rock up into the hills; abundant spring water; regenerating native bush and forestry; views of Ruapehu (from the top of the land on a clear day), and an abundance of potential and beauty, for our many dreams, to share with others…..Such blessings.
We named this beautiful place we were blessed to be caretakers of; Pīwakawaka Farm. The name itself was a gift from a very dear family friend, Jackie, signifying and celebrating as she put it:
“A part of our being that is ready to end and a new experience ready to come forth in every moment. The joyousness of change as the only constant.”
One of our dreams, present long before we had the opportunity to buy, was to create a place of shared living, learning and social enterprise based firmly on permacultural principles and practices, with ‘earth care’ ‘people care’ and ‘fair share’ all sturdily intertwined within our offerings.
From 2005 we began our permacultural planning, and preliminary plantings, of some mixed species shelter belts, and other amenity trees. But mostly we simply continued on with ‘fertilising the land with our footsteps’; regularly walking the entire farm as we observed and noted seasonal patterns and weekly changes over the years. Our values being that our practices worked in partnership with this land as we continued to ‘tread lightly’ on Her spirit.
In 2006, in collaboration with Mark, and the ‘Heritage Food Crops Research Trust’, we developed our first on-farm enterprise; ‘TreeLife Nursery’; our organic heritage fruit tree nursery business, with specific focus on that beautifully generous ‘community apple’ that Mark discovered, had scientifically tested for its health properties, and we then propagated: the Monty’s Surprise Apple tree.
For several years we provided Monty’s Surprise apple trees for the ‘Great Whanganui Community Fruit Tree Giveaways’. We also supplied Monty’s Surprise saplings to other North Island nurseries, and to locals for the establishment of their orchards while establishing our own orchards; ‘TreeLife Orchards’. We organised and conducted many community and on-farm fruit tree planting and care workshops; were part of establishing and presenting ‘Fruit Trees in Schools’ programmes through Sustainable Whanganui; and took our Monty’s Surprise apple and other fruit tree saplings on Saturdays to the ‘Whanganui River Traders’ Market’.
From 2014 onwards we also: designed, produced, and sold ‘Plant Heal’, our organically certified pruning paint incorporating biodynamics and materials from that farm; were part of a collective experiment in growing Ministry of Health sanctioned industrial hemp on our farm; and we conceived of, and with apples from our orchards, made and sold at the market our popular Monty’s Surprise Apple Mull, ‘Nicely Spicy’ during the winter months.
Throughout the years we continued to hold our dream of sharing Pīwakawaka Farm with like-minded others. Our vision included a community hall and accommodation space on top of our hill for celebrations, teaching, and retreats, and a café out front of land attracting the riverboat; making our tunnel house, mixed orchards and gardens the centre for community food production; planting a mixed forest echoing Richard and Laurel’s renowned mixed forest across our valley to the north; and designing and building small accommodations amongst the regenerating bush. Over the years, many good people came, and together with us floated possibilities for sharing Pīwakawaka Farm. But because of various life circumstances, these never come to be.
Meanwhile, throughout our time here, Murray and I have both worked on the farm and also seasonally off the farm throughout the year, often both of us needing to leave our land in loving hands for several months at a time, whilst we earned the funds to create and support our farm dreams and plans.
We came to the realisation that it was getting tiring. The two of us were running all the time. Not doing justice to fulfilling the potential of the gift of this land.
And yet we were still holding space for the ‘perfect people’ to come … And then; they came!! Through friends at the PiNZ Hui in Riverton in 2019, we and the Learning Environment learnt of each other. We invited the group to visit in August 2019… and the rest is another story.
Addendum: We have been blessed with the assistance of many wonderful people working with us tending to Pīwakawaka Farm over the years, too many to list, they know who they are, and we forever hold them with gratitude and appreciation.
Dreams, and even plans, have a way of coming to fruition in ways we cannot predict! And with our ‘Pīwakawaka Farm Whanau’ (the Learning Environment Coordinators and friends), now establishing their own plans and dreams on this whenua; Murray and I feel that we can step back allowing this beautiful succession to unfold - whilst very much assisting their plans, and fulfilling our own vibrant dreams and creative ideas for the future, on our (now smaller) piece of shared and much beloved Pīwakawaka Farm.