Kay Baxter of the Koanga Institute on Edible Gardens & Saving New Zealand’s Heritage Plants

17 January 2018

Kay Baxter holds a lifetime of knowledge and experience, and lucky for us she shares it.  30 years ago Kay co-founded the Koanga Institute and to this day she works to help others grow their own food, save heritage seeds, and live sustainably.  She is a world-renowned expert in seed-saving and permacultural gardening, and she spoke to Commonsense before her much-anticipated Wellington workshops.

What We're Losing

We live in an age in which we're rapidly losing knowledge.  Sure, we have the internet to tell us (at a moment's notice) when David Bowie was born, but real knowledge is slipping away.  Do you know how to patch up your roof?  Grow food for your family?  Stop your lawnmower making that weird noise?  Probably not.  Many of the handy, practical things our parents and grandparents knew about the world around them have been lost. 

One of the most important of these is the knowledge of gardening: how to do it and the rewards it brings.  Kay was lucky: "We lived out of the garden; there was no break in our family line".  As many people are now realising the importance of gardens Kay is offering inspiration to thousands.

Saving Seeds and Sharing Knowledge

When the Chernobyl meltdown sent radioactive material shooting out over much of the Northern Hemisphere, Kay Baxter realised that New Zealand being reliant on Europe for its food security and seeds wasn't the most sensible plan.  We had to create a secure future for ourselves and at the same time retain the integrity of our agricultural history. 

Kay admired the way the heritage plants survived in New Zealand's varied conditions and thrived year after year with very little human interference.  She began collecting local seeds and was soon featured in magazines and on Country Calendar.  The response was huge. 

"People really connect with their food plants - we got 500 letters just from one 'New Zealand Gardener' article".  And letters weren't the only things being sent.  At the time Koanga was the only known seed saving programme in the country and "old folks sent their seeds.  [They] had no-one to pass their seeds on to, we helped bridge the generation who didn't want to garden".  Kay's now been saving seeds for decades, and a large part of the Koanga Institute's work is getting these heritage seeds out to gardeners all over the country. 

The Institute also offers workshops (mainly at their Wairoa base), and Kay has written several books and gardening resources too.  Kay's writing includes a thorough gardening guide, booklets on growing nutrient dense food, saving seeds, and starting a food garden, and a recently released garden planner containing her "life's work" which is a stunning resource for anyone wanting a productive home garden.  More books are on their way including design guides for urban gardens, forest gardens, and a coffee table book of heritage plants.  Follow our Facebook page to see when they're released.

Some of the resources Koanga offers to NZ gardeners

How to Grow your Own Food

So, is that thumb of yours getting green yet?  You can grow food for yourself and your family; food that's the freshest you ever had, that tastes better than anything else, and that you're proud of. 


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