Thursday, August 11, 2022

People at the heart of Hōhepa

Neal Wallace
Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay is not only producing great food, but also giving purpose to those with intellectual disabilities and unique sensory needs.
Hōhepa’s milk is managed by 16 people who sterilise, refill, chill, pack and truck the reused bottles to markets around Napier and Hastings.

For the past 65 years, Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay has given purpose and a sense of belonging to thousands of people with intellectual disabilities.

Today, Hōhepa supports about 140 people who work at its 50-cow dairy farm, nursery, market garden, store and workshops at Clive. 

Another 40 live at and attend a school at Poraiti hills near Napier.

Hōhepa manager Santiago De Marco says the centre engages people so they can contribute and participate and the diverse roles available in the primary industry is the perfect environment to enable that.

“It’s about what people can do and support an operation, in this case a farm.”

The farm was established in 1959 and the cheesery added in the 1980s. 

The cheese is sold through the centre’s store at Clive, local farmers’ markets and around NZ.

Two years ago they started selling fresh milk in bottles throughout Napier and Hastings.

Hōhepa won six awards at the recent NZ Cheese Awards, including the inaugural sustainability award for reducing its carbon footprint by using solar energy in its walk-through dairy.

De Marco says their primary goal is to assist people rather than meeting financial and production targets, which it does by matching interests and ability with a fulfilling task.

“The farm is a very welcoming environment for meeting all of these different sensory needs and the way they see the world.”

Hence they use a walk-through dairy and seed for the nursery is collected in the wild to cater for those who like exercise and fossicking.

De Marco says some Hōhepa people are fascinated with water so they wash vegetables, clean milk bottles or water plants.

Others like working with animals so they work on the farm, which is where the walk-through dairy plays a key role.

For some, satisfaction and fulfilment is the tactile experience of having their hands in water, touching animals, or the motion of turning taps on and off.

The pasteurised bottled milk is an example. Instead of dispensing it through vending machines, 16 people are employed to clean, sterilise, refill, chill, pack and truck the reused bottles to markets around Napier and Hastings. 


Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay manager Santiago De Marco says the centre engages people so they can contribute and participate and the diverse roles available in the primary industry is the perfect environment to enable that.

Hōhepa employs three cheese makers making danbo, halloumi, cumin, fenugreek, blue, quark, mozzarella and feta, ricotta and fresh products such as Greek and natural yoghurt.

The workshop makes toys and furniture and De Marco says some people are satisfied doing one process – making a component or painting.

In addition to the farm and workshop they also have people involved in candle making, weaving and stone carving with products all sold through the shop.

“Our purpose is set out in a quadruple bottom line environment, culture, social and economic benefits,” De Marco says.

“It’s important we never lose sight of that, that we always look through the lens of what our purpose is.”

De Marco says Hōhepa’s four key values are to enhance the mana of people, community, sustainability and empowering people to self-determination.

The centre was established in 1957, a joint initiative between music teacher Marjorie Allan, who had a Down’s Syndrome nephew, and local farmers and benefactors Sir Lewis and Lady Myra Harris.

Fearful her nephew would end up in an institution, Allan saw an alternative while studying overseas and promoted the establishment of the Hōhepa Community on her return to NZ.

In 1956 Lady Lewis offered land to a newly-formed trust to establish a residential community including a school for people with differing disabilities.

The farm was added in 1959 and is recognised as NZ’s oldest commercially certified bio-dynamic farm.

Hōhepa also runs residential homes for its people and at 620 staff, it is Hawke’s Bay’s third largest employer.

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