Hohepa Hawke's Bay

May 2020

Farming skills for the intellectually disabled

Hohepa Hawke’s Bay was founded in 1957 by educator Marjorie Allen, and Sir Lewis Harris, a local farmer and benefactor. The Hohepa community provides residential and day care programmes for intellectually disabled people. Hohepa is based across two sites in Hawkes Bay with the dairy farm and cheesery based at Clive. A school with residential facilities is at Poraiti. The dairy farm, cheesery and gardens at Clive feed the community and provide a further income stream for a community that holds to its heart a vision for “every life fully lived”. The low-lying coastal Clive site was established in the 1960s. Currently, adult residents are being moved from Clive as part of Hohepa’s climate change response. 

The community is built on the principles of Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy, (a formal educational, therapeutic, and creative system established by Rudolf Steiner promoted biodynamic agriculture and horticulture in the early part of the 20th century). General Manager, Santiago DeMarco says at the heart of everything at Hohepa, is a respect for the land, the living world and the authenticity of natural products and produce. The work on the land or with natural products in the workshops nurtures the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the intellectually disabled people they support, while providing a beautiful environment for all. 

At Hohepa, profit isn’t just measured in dollars, but by the wellbeing of people, and ‘added value’ isn’t only the award-winning cheese made from their milk - it’s the meaningful work the farm and associated craft workshops provide for the community of intellectually disabled adults. 

On 20 hectares of herbal pasture at Clive, the farm milks 50 cows – a mix of shorthorn, jersey and mixed breeds. The farm has recently introduced AI and is improving herd genetics in order to increase their milk yields (currently about 4,000 litres for each cow during her 9-month milking season) to help the farm continue to remain profitable. Adult Services Manager Alfred Busch notes that their farm would make no sense from a mainstream commercial perspective, but for Hohepa the social and cultural values remain paramount. 

Of the 160,000 litres of milk produced a year, 16,000 litres is supplied to the residents, with the remainder supplying the cheesery, or bottled for sale. They produce yogurt, quark and halloumi and around 12,500kg of cheese a year. Cheeses include gouda, danbo, blue cheese, ricotta and feta. In 2019 they won a number of awards at the Cheese Awards, with gold for their danbo and fenugreek cheeses. Dairy produce is sold at their onsite shop, the Hawkes Bay and Napier Farmers Markets, and at outlets locally as well as Auckland and Wellington. 

The vegetable garden at the Clive site predominantly feeds the community with excess sold at the shop alongside craft products. 

Crafts, made by the community include woodwork, candles and woven wool products, all with natural materials sourced from outside. Weaving is done at a workshop in central Napier that facilitates a day programme for community members, who also help in the attached shop, Creative Works. 

A nursery has also been established to grow native plants from eco-sourced seeds and community members partake in restoration work at the estuary and local wetlands by planting out. Neil Kirton, Business and Partnerships Manager at Hohepa, says they are supported by Council and government agencies. For example, as part of the One Billion Trees programme, MPI has enabled a nursery at Haumoana to be set up in partnership with the Genesis Reforestation Trust. Neil explains Hohepa is involved in gathering seeds, planting the plants, and growing on, and also engaged in the community on various restoration projects. “They are out in the field doing excellent work, that the community really appreciates. It’s great work for the community of value and great work for the people we support.” 

Central to the farm, the craft workshops and the nursery is the provision of meaningful and authentic work for the intellectually disabled and a pathway to paid employment or remuneration, within Hohepa or in the wider community. Meaningful work is defined as real and necessary work where people are able to make a real contribution to both their community and the world they live in. 

Work is divided into 3 levels. The first level is for people with high and complex needs. Many are engaged in farm work in the plant nursery with a one-on-one support person. At this level, capacity for work is dependent on the individual on the day. Their work uses gross motor skills – raking or moving items with wheelbarrows, light maintenance and planting out. The outdoor location is vital for people at this level to thrive. The semi-rural outdoor environment is an important factor in their wellbeing. 

At level 2 are the trainees, where people gain work experience and training in woodwork, weaving, shop-keeping, candle-making, dairy farming and tractor driving. Hohepa has many fine and competent crafts people producing delicate woven products, woodwork and candles. The trainee level 2 leads to level 3, paid employment. Presently, 12 intellectually disabled people are employed at Hohepa, and many more in the wider community. 

Alfred says the intellectually disabled learn best through hands-on work, patient assistance and repetition, and their resilience and determination to master their skills is an inspiration to him. He points out while his intellectually disabled colleagues may take longer to learn and master their skills and craft, there is no difference between their end products and that of others. 

In this beautiful environment, things do not stand still. Hohepa is presently exploring a number of new avenues from the small scale (glass bottles for milk) to the large scale, including fundraising for new residential buildings away from the coast and the possibility of a social enterprise model. The new model is being explored, with a view to the people they support becoming shareholders and directors who can share in profits. 


Showdown Productions Ltd – Rural Delivery Series 15 2020