Two wealthy US brothers aiming to change how Kiwis view farming through Mangaroa Farms venture

A small rural project in Upper Hutt is trying to change the way New Zealanders view farming and grow their food. 

Funded by two wealthy brothers from the US, the community food hub, called Mangaroa Farms, aims to increase local food production through sustainable and regenerative methods. 

From the concrete high rises of Silicon Valley to the quiet green scenery of Upper Hutt's Whitemans Valley, founder Matthew Monahan is cultivating a new future with his family. 

"We love Wellington, and we love the energy of the capital and what's happening," Monahan told Newshub. "And then the valley is just this gem that's only 45 minutes from Parliament. And here you are, in a rural pastoral setting on a farm - so we feel like it is the best of both worlds." 

He and his brother made their fortune when they sold part of their company, a database of people's historical records on genealogical website 

Since moving here 10 years ago, the two men have purchased several neighbouring lifestyle blocks, an ex-dairy farm, forestry blocks, and even the community's 130-year-old church. 

"It's really about bringing adjacency and re-amalgamating a lot of this land back together in a coherent way," said Monahan. 

Matthew Monahan from Mangaroa Farms.
Matthew Monahan from Mangaroa Farms. Photo credit: Newshub.

And it's the former dairy farm that is the recipient of most of their time, energy and money. 

Set up under a charitable trust, it has since been transformed with 15km of new fencing, tens of thousands of native trees, walking paths and tracks, and an extensive market garden. 

"We are looking at what's in the garden, the dates they've been planted, so I can keep track of where things are," said Chris Upton, CEO of Mangaroa Farms. 

Mangaroa Farms now has a dozen full-time staff and contractors and sells its produce across the city and in an on-site shop. 

The idea is to strike a balance between selling nutritious food, while also teaching the community how to sustainably produce the food for themselves. 

"It's the whole lifecycle. It's teaching people about the biome of the soil and how to create that yourself, and the difference that makes," Upton told Newshub.

The variety of produce is extensive: "From leafy greens, through to microgreens, to your traditional cabbages and cauliflower - we also have meat products too," Upton added.

Mangaroa Farms has an extensive community market garden.
Mangaroa Farms has an extensive community market garden. Photo credit: Newshub.

They hold regular volunteer and open days, often attracting hundreds of people.

"I think there's interest, and we'll just keep doing more structured things, like planting days, garden days, picking out rocks in the garden, harvest days, these types of things."

But a big part of the project is working out how to make farms like this economical. Part of the plan is to harvest 300ha of pine to be regenerated as native forest in the next five years. 

"We want to be alongside the farming community in finding what are those pathways towards sustainable economics that are also sustainable and regenerative with the land. We are definitely in investment mode." 

The ultimate aim for that investment is to inspire the next generation, while providing food for their neighbours.