Oliver is an 18 year-old intern on our farm. He plans to stay “indefinitely.”
Since arriving at the Lebo’s farm two months ago, the theme of kaitiakitanga has perpetuated through every aspect of our work on the farm. For the people who have visited the eco school and seen the “Kaitiaki” signs at the door and driveway you might wonder what the title of the farm means, and why Kaitiaki is such an important aspect of life here that it gains the honour of the farm’s namesake.
In its simplest translation, kaitiakitanga means guardianship and protection of the environment through sustainable practice, a Kaitiaki is someone who practices the philosophy of kaitiakitanga.
For just about every piece of work we do on the farm you could ask “how does this demonstrate kaitiakitanga”. Whether it is something small like composting our waste, or not using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Or something big like giving up land that could be used to produce food, and restoring it into wetlands, which help protect the land from flooding, erosion, and droughts.
Often with kaitiakitanga a task is done in a seemingly normal or obvious way in terms of the short term goal, the long term goal is where the distinction is made between common practice and kaitiakitanga.
If you take feeding and moving the chickens everyday as an example for kaitiakitanga you would ask:
“Why do you feed and move the chickens?”
“So they don’t die” Would be the general answer to that question, but to discern a Kaitiaki you would question further:
“Why don’t you want them to die?”
Here most farmers would say they want the chickens because they give them meat and eggs, a Kaitiaki would say that they keep chickens alive to fertilize, control weeds, and pests, so that the use of chemicals which harm the soil aren’t necessary.
Over time the tractoring of chickens on a piece of land improves the overall health of the soil by increasing the amount of macro and micro-organisms it can support. To a Kaitiaki the production of meat and eggs is a bi product of using animals to heal and regenerate land.
To me, the biggest difference between a farmer and a Kaitiaki isn’t what is being done but how it is being done. A farmer uses the land to produce food and money, a Kaitiaki stewards and protects the land through much the same crops and practices but with slight differences intended to ultimately give back to the land as much as is taken.