Case Study: Kai Rotorua Regenerative Agriculture Project

Case Study: Kai Rotorua Regenerative Agriculture Project

Kai Rotorua began as the Rotorua Local Food Network, a group of 30 volunteers whose aim was to make healthy, locally grown food affordable and accessible for the whole community.

Kai Rotorua also delivers a Māori cultural education through the cultivation of the land and supports sustainable, local food business and farming.

Aims of the project

The purpose of Kai Rotorua is to reconnect people to Papatuanuku (land) through Kai (food), resulting in a resilient, well-nourished, well-connected community.

The ultimate goal of the project is to create an ecologically and socially sustainable local food system, that gives back to the richness of the soil and land while giving the people plenty to live on.

The challenge

The biggest challenge facing the project was creating a fundamental shift in people’s mindsets.

Nearly a third of the local population goes without fruit and vegetables to pay their bills, with Māori disproportionately affected.

Many have grown up without the traditional knowledge of kai and have lost their connection with Papatūānuku.

The solution

Education and community were the two keys to making this project a success.

Educating the next generation through local schools and community projects was essential in keeping the project going into the future.

Teaching local kids about kumara, rīwai and Māori potato production was just one way the project was able to bring the younger generation in, keeping the local food system sustainable.

By hosting networking events and community workshops, Kai Rotorua was able to bring the message of food sustainability to the locals in a fun and passionate way.

These events helped people understand the value of growing and selling produce locally, supporting other food producers, the overall circle of production, distribution and consumption.


Our job was to help Kai Regenerative incorporate regenerative methods in their food production, creating a system to grow kumara and potato using regenerative principles learned from nature.

These methods went a step beyond sustainability, creating a system that produces healthy food without damaging the soil.

The traditional preparation for planting uses tillage and sprays, but this goes against the regenerative principles for healthy food and soil.

On top of that, polythene is usually used to cover the crop – this is to protect it from the elements and raise the temperature of the soil – but this practice cuts off sunlight and decreases photosynthesis.

Our regenerative methods rely on capturing the sun’s energy to turn trigger photosynthesis and feed the biota in the soil.

The polyculture growing on top of and alongside the kumara and potatoes helps provide nutrients, building organic matter and supporting the mineral cycles.

This is the natural way things grow, and this throwback to nature is what regenerative farming is all about.

The result is greater soil and crop health.

Results of the project

Kai Rotorua has now grown into a non-profit group made up of over 130 people and organisations.

They have brought gardening education back into local schools, established a farmer’s market, and have created 66 free backyard gardens for whanau and kindergartens.

Their networking events, community gatherings, and educational workshops have changed how hundreds of people in Rotorua think about food.

The system that we have helped them build is financially sustainable, regenerative, and is helping people of all ages reconnect with the land.

The Kai Rotorua Project is proof that small beginnings can lead to something wonderful on a larger scale, and we’re proud to have been part of the journey.

Dr Hugh Jellie

Dr Hugh Jellie is the founder of Ata Regenerative and has spent 17 years researching farming systems and regenerative agriculture around the world. He now helps farmers, organisations and individuals change to deliver improved environmental, social, financial and health outcomes.