The Koanga Institute's seed collection, a unique resource in New Zealand, was born of catastrophe and passion.

In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor spewed radioactive fallout across Europe. At the time, nearly all New Zealand seed came from Europe.

"We were totally dependent on the Northern Hemisphere for our food and it was under a nuclear cloud," Koanga Institute founder Kay Baxter recalls. "I'd never heard of seed saving, I'd never heard of heritage seeds; I just knew I had to do it.

Now the Koanga Institute has over 800 heritage vegetable seed varieties (600 of them unique to New Zealand) and more than 400 kinds of edible trees.

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Seeds can't just be put in a vault for safe-keeping. Koanga Institute grows out at least a third of its seeds every year to keep the collection viable. The team grow the collection on leased land in Wairoa, but their landlord now wants to sell up.

The institute must come up with $705,000 by the end of June in order to keep the land and seeds. So far over $150,000 has been raised through individual donations.

"We're the only organisation working in New Zealand that's dedicated to saving our heritage seed. It's been up to us, this little group of ordinary people," Kay says. She hopes more people will now step in to carry that burden.

The Koanga Institute will run a national tour in May and June with talks and workshops covering seed saving, urban gardening, nutrition and beekeeping. Proceeds will go towards saving the institute's organic heritage seed collection.

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