A garden at Moamoa Fou is becoming the new classroom for learning the old ways of gardening and caught the eye of an international culinary guru.
The garden and the property that it sits in is always abuzz with guests staying at their accommodation, or primary school children and local growers taking tours, through a large lifestyle block and gardens. It is owned by the Tokelau Catholic and Council Elders of Nukunonu.
Yesterday, the property had a celebrity visitor. Well-known author and TV presenter, Robert Oliver, was like a kid in a candy shop, as he explored and inspected bunches of coriander, fragrant basils and parsley. Mikaele Maiava manages the property, and took his high profile visitor through the garden.
The Ambassador for Le Cordon Bleu, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, told the Sunday Samoan the garden would be featured in an episode of an upcoming cooking TV series based around the Pacific.
A distinct style of gardening and community involvement is a draw card for the famous chef and for many who are inspired to get back to grow their own food.
“My dream was always to live off the land and help others do the same,” he said.
Although Mika runs a youth programme, which aims at putting unemployed youth through a three-week gardening module with the ultimate goal of finding them employment, he first preaches that in growing food, your first responsibility is to your own family.
“The first thing that you have to take care of is your family,” he said. “Don’t worry about all the money - all of the money comes as a bonus but your first priority is to make sure that you are feeding your family – then whatever is left, you sell it.
“A lot of them are just thinking about, we’re going to sell it we’re going to sell it. Stop thinking like that – feed your family first.”
Chef Oliver nods in agreement. He adds that such a simple philosophy is overlooked in agricultural training.
“I don’t think anyone has been saying that at agricultural trainings, they make it complicated but what Mika is doing is super pragmatic,” Chef Oliver said.
“It’s about addressing immediate needs of nutrition and income; Mika is putting an intervention into the food chain which has become quite corrupted in the Pacific.”
Moving through rows of cabbage and taro, Mikaele points out that we need to appreciate the aesthetic advantages of gardening to our environment.
While he works with nature, Mikaele adds his own creative flourishes to his garden landscaping.
“In the beginning I was always about vegetables,” he said. “But really vegetables are also an ornament. People like to see pretty things so you make them like decorations too.”
Chef Oliver laughs and says that he always notes people’s reactions to beautiful things in nature is because naturally – its good for you.
“A natural reaction to what is truly good for us is we find it beautiful because this is how we are wired to work as human beings for survival,” said Chef Oliver, “so when we see something that is beautiful, you kind of think, well why is it beautiful? And then you realize it’s because its nourishing.”
One of the most important aspects of growing your own food and making an income at the same time is that you don’t need to be fancy. This is according to Mikaele, who believes that anyone can have a garden by utilizing what they already have.
“Gardening is inspiring, its hard work but it pays off,” he said. “This is bamboo right, so one of things we operate out here is the different alternatives of how you farm.
“Like a lot of people who have money, they have nice fences and they have hydroponics but I don’t need hydroponic, I need bamboobonic!” he laughs. “You don’t have to make it look fancy.”
Chef Oliver said the gardens was exactly what the Pacific Islands need more of and he was looking forward to do some filming with him.
“Really, the knowledge from the past is the blueprint for the future and when it comes to growing your own vegetables - this is gardening made easy,” said Chef Oliver.
“What I like about this, is that it’s bringing the farming concept into urban life – because that’s been the fundamental change in the way people live in the Pacific. We found with our research around N.C.D (non-communicable diseases), it’s the urban community that are having issues to having access to good food because they’re busy.”