Innovative fruit wholesaler keen to work with iwi

By Tepara Koti

Innovative fruit wholesaler, Maungatapere Berries in the North, is working hard for the betterment of its wider community.

They want to set the record straight following misinformation broadcast in a Te Ao news story recently which indicated the company and its hydroponics project may have an impact on Porotī Springs in Northland.

To paint a clearer picture the company opened its doors and invited the concerned party into the business to see it for themselves.

Maungatapere Berries co-founder Patrick Malley says, "Contrary to what was reported previously, our operation doesn't draw off Porotī Springs at all, and we want to be completely self-sustainable in what we do and do not have an impact upon other users within the region."

"As it stands right now, our operation is entirely self-sufficient in its water use. On the tunnels right beside me we capture water in rainfall events and we store it in a reservoir that we have on-site, and we use that water to irrigate our plants."

While there were also questions around recent Primary Growth Fund allocations, Malley explains that their company has taken the loan to invest in the region by improving employment opportunities.

"The purpose of this loan is actually about some of the things we want to bring to the Northland community through horticulture. We've had experience of growing hydroponic berries for a little over four years and we're found it's been able to provide really good sustainable employment opportunities for our staff," says Malley.

He explains that the company has grown from originally three full-time staff to now 57 full-time staff and for nine months of the year, 180 seasonal workers are employed.

Malley says they have a goal to change that figure and eventually employ 180 full-time staff through diversified horticulture, meaning being able to have tasks for people to do 12 months of the year.

Another critical factor to their operation is combating the weather elements. By having their tunnels infrastructure on their kiwifruit and berries, it means their crops aren't affected and employees have guaranteed work.

Te Ao news broadcast a story recently which outlined concerns raised by environmental advocate and representative of Whaititiri Māori Reserves Trust, Milan Ruka.

Milan was concerned the company would be installing a pipeline that would draw water from Porotī Springs, which hapū have fought long and hard to protect and restore.

Now after visiting the berry farm, Ruka has changed his perspective.

"With this visit here, I now have a full understanding of the PGF funding, and you can see exactly where it's going into, in the new technology that this whānau here are developing," he says.

Ruka admits the information he had received previously was incorrect.

"The first information we got, was the water was coming from Porotī Springs, and clearly at this point in time, it's not coming from Porotī Springs, it's coming from their own inventive sources here."

Maungatapere Berries says it is committed to empowering its community and has a strong focus on looking after their environment. They also say a positive economic outcome for the North can be achieved as a collective.

"We think it's massively important that horticulture and the local community and hapū and iwi all work together for the benefit of the region.

"We want to show good pathways forward, and then we want to give people the opportunities to go and do that themselves.

"We're really up for partnerships with hapū and iwi in the area and we're really keen to make sure that we work together with people rather than against them," says Malley.