Our Story

This story began when Kay and Bob moved from Auckland up to Bob’s family farm in Kaiwaka, in 1980. Kay could see that the wild fruit trees growing along the roadsides and around the Kaipara Harbour were healthier and more productive, with far better tasting fruit than anything in the garden she inherited, in other people or the Garden Centres. They were all of that without any sprays or fertiliser being applied! Kay set out on a mission collecting these heritage fruit trees, with their stories. Many of  them, at that time, were on their last legs and dying or being cut down fast.  That collection is now a large Northern Bioregional collection that is still growing and now including collections from a wider area as the Kay and the Koanga Institute have moved around finding a new place to settle. In the process of collecting these trees over time Kay realised she had not only saved the physical trees but also the stories of the people whose lives they were entwining with , that this work brings life  to the younger generations looking four links back to who they are.

Kay realised the trees hold our stories, they tell us who we are! We began saving New Zealand heritage seeds after the nuclear disaster in Russia Chernobyl, when we realised our absolute vulnerability being almost totally dependent here in this land on seed from countries in the Northern hemisphere ( at that point under a nuclear cloud).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 every critical they are for our future. The F.A.O told us all 20 years ago that we had 10% of the vege 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 we’re really lucky if we have 3% left. Our ecologist tell us and it’s easy to see that life as we know it depends upon diversity and integration. If we only have 3% or less of our for 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 taonga.

Koanga Institutes national organic seed collection which now stands at over 800 distinct cultivars, more than 80% of which are specifically NZ heritage lines, and all important for our future.The longer we spend with these heritage food plants the more we become aware of their importance, the stronger we feel about their value., and the stronger the case becomes for the need to save them.

We are the ancestors, We are the seeds, the seeds are us, we have co evolved together. Together we stand, together we fall.

In this interview from April 2019 Kay talks about her journey with Koanga, about heritage seeds, nutrient dense food, health and regenerative farming. 

In this short interview for RNZ National ‘Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan’ Kay talks about how Koanga started