What is the Koanga Institute?

For years we have been buying Koanga seeds and fruit trees but I have never really known what is at the heart of Koanga and this is what motivated me to make the 8hr drive from Taranaki to investigate…


The Koanag Institute, is nestled close to Lake Waikaremoana and I arrived in the dark, over the winding road between Napier and Wairoa to find a remote, quiet farmhouse with everyone in bed at 9.30pm.  Rain pelted down, the first after the drought - so exhausted I parked the car, put down the seats and slept!


In the morning I found my way to the kitchen and things were buzzing as the gardener’s and kitchen staff discussed the days work ahead.   My stay was to include two professional development courses; a two-day Forest Garden workshop run by Shaked and a Small Farm Design run by Bob Corker.  The latter was unfortunately cancelled due to low numbers and although this was disappointing Bob spent a morning with me talking through what Koanga is doing in this area and I was fully reimbursed the course cost.


Being an edible landscape designer, the Forest Garden course didn’t hold a huge amount of new material for me, however I did like the Koanga approach - which is to design Forest Gardens to support from the outset small animals (usually poultry for eggs and meat).  This differs hugely from most Forest Garden approaches (Hart, Crawford and Lawton) who are vegan and vegetarian – so that the highest expression of the Forest Garden’s are fruit and nuts – awesome yields but lacking in many essential vitamin’s which are much easier to get from meat.  So I will certainly be designing in a strong small animal component to my Forest Gardens (where practical) in the future.


Down time was spent nosing around site to get my head around what is the ‘Koanga Institute?’  First off, it is worth noting that the Institute at this Wairoa site is less than three years old and while much progress has been made setting up the infrastructure, council red tape and lack of funds have inhibited development.  Kay, Bob and team are touring New Zealand in May to raise awareness and funds for securing this site for growing New Zealand’s largest collection of heritage fruit tree and vegetable seed stock. 


Bob Corker’s design depicts a village of small footprint houses (currently caravans until building consents are approved), clustered inside the surrounding pastoral paddocks that Taimai (Bob and Kay’s son) is developing to graze a mixture of dairy cows, pigs, sheep and goats.  In turn these dwellings encircle the site and are separated by a fan of forest gardens under-grazed by weed eater geese. 


Shaked managers the nursery (where we buy our heritage fruit trees) and is an avid experimenter of seed.  The nursery is lush and delightful.  Next are the inturn and apprentice gardens (each apprentice is assigned a garden to look after), as well as seed gardens.  Other isolated gardens are dotted over the 60+ acres, some free standing in the middle of paddocks (you wouldn’t get away with  that in windy Taranaki!).   Right at the centre of the site is the farmhouse, which holds the hub of the Institute; kitchen, offices and workshop room.   After seeing the caravan living, I think it takes lots of discipline not to move into this house as the winter damp creeps in!


Intern Gardens

All food is strictly prepared to Western Price principles at Koanga, which was delicious – though I missed my one coffee a day and glass of wine with dinner.  I didn’t however miss the chocolate – as I had it hidden in my bag!  I bought my plunger too and tried bringing it out, but felt like a lepper.   Something that tickled me pink and was an advantage of staying a number of days was shower night; the rocket showers (heated by a biochar rocket stove) are piping hot and lit once every three days – this is quite a night with everyone, babies, mums, gardener’s and visitors all taking turns!


A highlight for me was sussing out the demonstration ‘Suburban Food Garden’ – just 200sqm providing nutrient dense food, with all the vital nutrients required in our diet – including meat (everything produced is measured and weighed).  The bunnies hanging in cages maybe a challenge for some - they look fluffy, white and cute.  Rabbit meat is a highly nutritious food source however, served at many renowned restaurants, but we tend to think of this meat as hunted out in the wild, not farmed in hanging cages next to the house.  In this high-density situation, rabbit are a multi nutrient source; droppings provide the raw material for the worm farm, sited conveniently below the cages and high quality meat, including livers that yield Vitamin A – a very hard yield to get elsewhere.  The rabbits looked happy and healthy, though none had eaten yet.

Frier Bunnies


On the last day I spent time with Bob and Taimai, walking over the farm, talking vision, farm strategy, soil testing and fodder trees. 


 A worthwhile trip; I gained a better understanding of the amazing vision of Bob and Kay and the team at Koanga, who are doing the hard yakka, many of us would be uncomfortable undertaking.  It’s not perfect but they doing it, not only for themselves but for everyone in New Zealand.  To keep going with lack of funds, living in a caravan and having to ‘sell’ the dream through tours and workshops takes a driven kind of person that has a higher mission at stake – it is a hope that overcomes the obstacles because the alternative is not worth considering.  I wish the Koanga team the best success and will certainly be attending Kay’s talk here in Taranaki on the Friday 23rd May.


Kay Baxter and the crew from the Koanga Institute will be coming to New Plymouth on 23 May as part of their nationwide tour to save their land and save NZ's heritage seeds.  Kay, co-founder of Koanga Institute, world-renowned expert in seed-saving and permaculture gardening will be doing two inspiring talks in one session, her first talk will be ‘Seeds, Humans and the Process of Co-evolution… a regenerative way forward’  and in the second Kay will share her journey around ‘Future proofing Your Health and Designing Your own Nutrient Dense Diet’.  For more information and to purchase tickets - visit http://www.koanga.org.nz/tour/


Written By GreenBridge's Eco-Garden designer - Bena Denton



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