Community ProjectsFood Plants - AnnualFood Plants - PerennialHealth & DiseaseSeedsTrees

Please Help Us Save Heritage Organic Seed Collection From Loss on 6 June 2014

We need your help to save New Zealand’s largest organic heritage or heirloom seed and tree collection by June 6th 2014. We are asking for your support for this campaign to secure the land the New Zealand organic heritage seed collection grows on before we lose it.

Background: 30 years of organic heritage seed saving

The Koanga Institute, founded by Kay Baxter, has spent 30 years building up a living library comprising of hundreds of heritage fruit and vegetables that are in danger of extinction and being lost. These seeds are either from New Zealand or brought here from England, Scotland, Croatia, Germany, France, South Africa, the Pacific islands and other parts of the world with our ancestors when they settled in New Zealand. Some of the seed lines do not exist any more in their country of origin.

Kay says old people who sent us in their seeds 30 years ago understood the sacredness of their seeds, that had been in their families for generations. The next generation was the generation that stopped gardening and they had nobody to pass their seeds to.

We were all over the TV and media at that time — the Country Calendar television show, etc. — and they saw us and their seeds began flowing into our mail box, with their stories and recipes in wobbly hand writing…. We felt so humbled.

In 1994 the UN estimated that 94 percent of vegetables and 85 percent of apple varieties had already been lost and a further 3% of the remaining biodiversity was lost every year after that. Our ecologists tell us, and we can see ourselves, that life as we know it on earth is dependant on our biodiveristy and all the connections. With way less than 10% of the food plants we had 100 years ago we are on a knife edge right now!

The Koanga Institute, a registered charitable trust in New Zealand, has saved 800+ seed lines and 400+ fruit trees and berry varieties. Some of these lines have international importance, particularly the corn collection, which is one of the largest collections not affected by genetic engineering. This collection has many ecological and nutritional characteristics that will be invaluable for the future of regenerative agriculture and our health in New Zealand and potentially worldwide. The home for this collection is in Wairoa, Northern Hawkes Bay, on leased land. Three years ago the Koanga Institute found the right land to literally and figuratively plant our roots. It took 5 years to find this land. This land has:

  • good soils and water, a great climate for growing seeds
  • 3+ years of investment in the soil minerals and biology for growing nutrient dense seeds
  • enough area for our collections, growing areas, forest gardens, isolation gardens (super important) and nursery
  • isolation from horticulture and GE crops
  • a large farmhouse, several sheds and enough area to add several small cabins for interns and staff accommodation in the future
  • a supportive community around us, the potential to develop a full campus to train future seed savers and gardeners to care for the next generations of heritage seeds and support regenerative agriculture in other communities, using the many models on our demonstration site to do that.

Why are the seeds in danger on the June 6th?

The Koanga Institute does not own the land its organic heritage seed and tree collection is located on — it leases it. The current owners and mortgage holders want to sell it now. If the Koanga Institute wants to buy the land it must come up with the funds by the June 6th or be evicted with its heritage seed and tree collection on the 16th of July.

Whilst the Koanga Institute can sustain its operational activities through seed sales and educational offerings, it does not have the capacity for such a large capital investment. The land asking price is NZ$705,000 (US$609,000). Initially we were given to the 29th of June to raise the funds. This deadline has now been moved forward to the 6th of June. If we do not pay on the 6th of June we will be evicted on the 16th of July.

We are doing everything in our power to raise funds from national speaking tours, national workshops, online crowd fund-raising, looking for business sponsorship, offering memberships, but we need your help.So far we have raised USD129,000.

Why are heritage or heirloom organic seeds so important?

We know from taste, our feelings and from science, that our heritage food plants contain the potential for providing us with far more nutrition than modern industrial food plants could. We can see the direct link between nutrient dense food and health, and between highly mineralized soils and health. Seeds before industrialization were selected for:

  • Local soils and environment, they did well in our own garden situations
  • Selected to nourish people
  • Selected for disease resistance and health in local environment
  • Taste, and usefulness in the kitchen
  • These seeds were all an amazing collection of genetic material, that nourished us, grow well in our soil and climate area, had the genetic blueprint to survive climate change
  • The industrial system has selected for production, shelf life, toughness, harvesting all at once, and many other reasons. The responsibility of the system is to the shareholders, it is all about financial returns — they do not take responsibility for you and I and our health.

The implications of this are:

  • Most of our seeds produce fruit and vegetables that are flavorless and uninviting. So they process it and add loads of fillers, homogenizers, colors and flavors and preservatives to make it taste better and sell better and make money
  • Many of our seeds contain enzyme blockers which mean they cannot pick up key minerals from the soil anymore, they can never be nutrient dense and we don’t get key minerals in our bodies — e.g. manganese. Most hybrid seeds are like this. Organic food grown from hybrid seed (not organic or heirloom or heritage seed) will not contain these minerals any more than non-organic food does
  • We cannot save our own seeds from these seeds
  • Seeds bred and selected in the industrial system are bred to require industrial inputs
  • The implications of using seed that has been grown in soils that have been treated with Roundup or seeds that are ‘Roundup Ready’ genetically engineered seeds are large and not life affirming. The latest information shows us that seeds grown in systems where glyphosate has been used carry the glyphosate in the seed, and in the food grown from that seed, and for generation after generation (glyohosate is patented as an anti microbial/anti-life product). The implications for our health are enormous.

About the Koanga Institute

Kay Baxter realised the trees and seeds hold our stories — they tell us who we are! She began saving New Zealand heritage seeds after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Russia, when she realised the absolute vulnerability of New Zealanders being almost totally dependant on seed from countries in the Northern hemisphere (at that point under a nuclear cloud).

Kay, with partner Bob Corker, founded the Koanga Institute. "We were simply acting on our gut feelings, however after 25 years of living with these seeds, of growing them in our food gardens, and of them being all our children and now grandchildren know in their lives, we have come to understand just how critical they are for our future".

The F.A.O. told us all 20 years ago that we had 10% of the veggie varieties left that we’d held in the world 100 years before that. They are still being lost at a rate of 3% a year. That means in our estimation that we’re really lucky if we have 3% left. If we only have 3% or less of our plants left we’re not doing well and the implications are enormous. The new science of epigenetics is also now showing us that our own heritage food plants communicate with our DNA more clearly than somebody else’s food, and that for our DNA to remain intact and not deteriorate we need certain levels of minerals and vitamins, etc. The only food plants we have that were selected and held and grown to nourish us are those we co-evolved with — our heritage food plants. They are our ancestors’ gift to us. They are our most precious toanga (sacred treasure).

What others say about us

Kay Baxter is a true eco-hero, I am a huge admirer of the work she has pioneered with the Koanga Institute to save and protect our seeds. Koanga Institute is a really unique trust; there is no other seed bank with organic heritage seeds like this in New Zealand. — Malcolm Rands (Ecoman), founder and director of EcoStore

Kay Baxter Founder of Koanga Institute is one of the very best gardeners I have ever met and has made the most thorough detailed study of heritage fruit trees and food plant seeds having been very active in saving local seed and fruit tree varieties. Her knowledge, through practical experience and major achievements that have built a huge wealth of knowledge, is way beyond anybody I know. — Geoff Lawton, internationally recognised permaculture consultant, designer and teacher from Australia

Listen to what Joel Salatin (Polyface farms) and Nick Ritar (Milkwood) have to say about saving the heritage seeds:

Our latest Press

  • Heritage Seeds- Good Morning TVNZ, 20 August: Famous foodie Peta Mathias reveals why she’s joining forces with the Koanga Institute’s Kay Baxter to help save our heritage seeds…see more
  • Saving our seed for the future – Seven Sharp TV1 15 November 2013: Modern produce has been bred for shelf life not taste, but there is a group of kiwis trying to bring back the… see more
  • Kiwis missing out on heritage food – Firstline TV3, 19 March 2014: Kay Baxter, director of the Koanga Institute, is on a mission to save New Zealand’s heritage seeds… see more
  • Feeding the nation: Are all fruits and veges created equal? – Element, NZ Herald 31 Jan 2014: In the final part of a three-part report on nutrition and poverty in New Zealand, experts weigh in on keeping pesticides to a minimum… see more
  • Plant your veges and watch savings grow – Hamilton News 8 June 2013: Sustainable gardening advocates the Koanga Institute say science supports what our tastebuds have been telling us: home-grown “heritage” vegetables are nutritionally superior to pesticide-ridden store-bought produce… see more
  • Gardening: Core of good health – Herald on Sunday 20 May 2012: Visit the supermarket and you’ll find only three or four types of apples to choose from at any given time, but New Zealand research of heritage varieties proves some older cultivars are worth holding on onto… see more
  • Kay Baxter on food foresting – Radio Live 25 JanuaryKay Baxter from the Koanga Institute talks food foresting with Tony Murrell… listen
  • Koanga Institute and Heritage Seeds – Radio NZ 24 November 2013 It isn’t widely known that a large proportion of the heritage fruit and vegetables on the planet have either passed into extinction or are rapidly headed that way… see more
  • A New Home for Koanga Institute and Gardens – Radio NZ 15 July 2011: For the past 25 years Kay Baxter and her husband Bob Corker have been saving New Zealand’s heritage fruit trees and vegetables at Koanga Gardens in Kaiwaka. But five years ago they decided they needed a new place to live so have found a new home near Wairoa where they’re developing a Community Land Trust which they hope will support up to 30 families…see more.

How you can help

  • Share our campaign: think about passing it on to others who may wish to support it. We need your help. This is a matter of profound national and international significance — please join us in this vital investment in our food future! This is a race against time. We would be honoured if you would help us promote our crowd fund-raising campaign to your community and friends through e-mail, newsletters, blogs, facebook, other social media or contacting the media to tell our story.
  • Donate via indiegogo
  • Contact us via email and let us know how you can help: can you run a fund-raising event, sponsor us, become a business member, or anything else that may help? Contact emma (at)


  • What happens to my money once I have donated? The money will be put into a secure trust account and only used for the purpose of buying the land.
  • Is my donation tax deductible? The Koanga Institute is a registered charity in New Zealand and donations are tax deductible.
  • What are the Koanga Institute’s plans for the future? In addition this land will be used for research and the educational activities of the Koanga Institute to proactively promote the development of other seed saving organisations, community groups and train New Zealand’s future heritage gardeners and guardians.


  1. Koanga Institute is an incredible organization and absolutely worthy of your money! We absolutely need more stewards like Kay and her team in the world.

    If you are passionate about seeds and are saving and selling your seeds, I would love to help you in any way I can, espcecially through Seedwise, the non-gmo + organic seed marketplace.

    Thank you for this article Kay! And keep up the great work!

    1. After visiting a seed bank myself recently and seeing first hand the time and dedication placed at ensuring they secure a future of non GMO plants. I can’t imagine what the future would be like if we people like this didn’t exist. I am so grateful for their time and dedication.

  2. Koanga is doing incredibly vital work to save our diversity of heritage crops. They deserve all our support in reaching their funding goal.

  3. this organisation is so important for the upcoming generations. i felt secure knowing this work was being done. lease let it stay for all of us kiwis who value and love it.

  4. You now have a 20% deposit for the property ( $129K ). Would it not be possible to take over the existing mortgage. You already pay rent for leasing the land so why put those funds into paying the mortgage. Just a thought.
    John Fitzgerald.

    1. It probably depends whether there are developments on the property, which means buildings. If so 20% down is about right, but if not then upwards of 50% is typical. Makes no sense to me but it is the system. I hope it survives.

  5. It’s hugely important to help save the seeds collected by Koanga. We can’t afford to give much right now, but have e-mailed Kay to say I want to give $500 USD. It’s vital that we save Koanga for the benefit of not just our children, but generations ahead. Please spread the word and let’s each play a part make it possible for Koanga to continue.

  6. What a generous service Kay and Bob have provided towards our global food security. It is time for us to be generous in return.

  7. I think all these Famous big-name speakers should dip into their pockets and show their monetary support as well….share the wealth so to speak as permaculturists have been paying them quite handsomely over the recent years for information and education. Time for the money to flow the other way. This is one of the worthiest causes yet.

  8. Yes this truly is a project to support and the people BEHIND this project are wonderful, I’ve listened to them speak and have learned and loved what I received from them! Come on everyone spread the word around the world and help them!!

  9. “The Koanga Institute does not own the land its organic heritage seed and tree collection is located on — it leases it. The current owners and mortgage holders want to sell it now.”

    Who owns the land that the Koanga Institute is leasing?

    A quick search of the companies register shows a company, Woodend Ventures Ltd, owns the land. The three directors who hold the mortgage with the bank are Christopher Allen Lenth, Geoffrey Frank Lawton, and Robert Bruce Corker.

    Why have we not been told that Kay and the Institute are raising money to buy the land from (bail out) her husband Bob and Geoff Lawton?

    1. Hi Michael,
      I have the unenviable job of resolving the problems associated with the Kotare Village Development. This was initiated by Woodend Ventures Ltd (WVL), in an informal partnership with the Koanga Institute. After several investors withdrew their support from Woodend Ventures, the company was left in an untenable situation, and was faced with a possible mortgagee sale. This left many people in a very precarious situation, including ; the Koanga Institute, unsecured creditors of Woodend Ventures,and several families (including mine). I have taken on the job of resolving this ‘mess.’ as I was the prime mover of this project. The Koanga Institute, stepped forward and agreed to purchase the property from WVL, and set about to do it, to save its position and all those involved (including me). The process so far has been awkward to say the least, and it is difficult to easily communicate to everybody just what it all involves, however I will do my best to give a summary and if you have anymore questions you are welcome to ask me either through this site or personally at [email protected]
      First understand that there were always three properties that WVL intended to develop (The Home Block, the Hill Block and the River Block) WVL owns the Home Block. and had an option to purchase the other two. Plus both WVL and the Institute considered it critical to the success of the development that the Hill Block be included in the development to secure our water catchment, water storage and springs.
      September 2013. The Institute committed itself to a 8 month campaign to raise the funds necessary to purchase the land from WVL, including a national speakingtour and workshops which could only be done during June and July the quiet time for the garden
      November 2013 – The owner of the Hill Block , a corporate forestry company, came to us with 2 weeks warning and said they were withdrawing from the option to purchase and would be spraying all the bush (including riparian areas). We, understandably ‘freaked out’ and the Institute started a campaign to purchase the Hill Block. This included a news item on national TV, which got the company to back down, and give us more time which we have been very grateful for.. The wording of the campaign was not well done, and in retrospect started the ball rolling for what has been increasing confusion by many people about what is happening.
      Decemmber 2103 A lenderwith a first mortgae over the Home Block found a loop hole in their contract, and decided to demand their loan back from Woodend Ventures originally it was due back in 2017, now it became due back by the end of February 2014. We managed to scramble around and push this deadline out to the 6th June, to fit in with our campaign.
      6th June – we raised sufficient funds to purchase the first mortgage. At that point all these funds were earmarked to pay for the land for the Institute. We had a choice to either keep them in the bank, or use them to purchase the first mortgaged loan from the original lender.. Had we chosen the former a mortgage sale would have proceeded and the Institute would have been kicked off the property it has spent 3 years developing. We chose to the latter, which is essentially in trust for the land still. We believe it is just as secure as the bank, argueably more so.
      Having finished the speaking tour and our second crowd funding campaign, I had a brief moment to reflect on the position the Insttute had taken to purchase the land it required. I was also mindful that I had committed myself to resolving this by the end of June for the sake of all involved. I then decided that we needed to change tack because their is a good chance the Institute will not by itself be in a position to raise the finds required to place it in a viable position. i have placed a proposal in front of the Koanga Institute to start a new development company which will raise the funds through Equity Crowd Funding ( a new possibility due to a recent law change in NZ). This proposal was accepted by the Trustees and i am currently proceeding to get this going and will make a public announcement soon.

      I accept that we could have communicated what was going on better. I think that you can also see that it would not have been a very easy job, it is complicated. You can also see that we ended up reacting to crazy deadlines, which probably clouded our judgement as to communicating things better.
      I am the first to acknowledge the mistakes I and others had made in the development, and I am proud of all the amazing things we have acheived. I am comforted by the amazing support we have been given, especially those families who have chosen to dig in here and support the dream. I am also comforted by the understanding that frequently those in history who acheive amazing things, get to make lots of mistakes along the way and don’t give up. I am willing to discuss any aspects of what has happened here, and have nothing to hide. With regard to baling Geoff out, Geoff has nothing to lose in this project except the dissappointment of seeing it fall over. Geoff has always supported us generously with the limited time he has. There will always be people out there who imagine the worse, a pattern of human nature. We are all challenged to observe what is rather than what we fear or imagine.

      Arohanui Bob Corker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button