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, te