The home of New Zealand's largest heritage seed collection now has a 200sq m model garden to get city dwellers thinking differently about the potential of their backyards.

The Urban Garden Project is the latest initiative from, permaculture research centre and organic seed bank, the Koanga Institute. Most recently the Hawke's Bay-based organisation launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise US$19,000 to fund the ongoing development of the project.

Head of the campaign Kat Gawlik said the team at the Koanga Institute felt people living in urban areas were not getting the nutrients they needed from supermarket food, chosen by stores for its "looks and shelf-life".

She said The Urban Garden Project was about showing people living in small spaces they could be close to self-sufficient through planting food in nutrient-dense soil. It also also aimed to show that people could make a modest income from a small backyard - whether that was through selling compost, seedlings, or "worm juice" (the diluted liquid from a worm farm).

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She said the garden had been inspired by the findings of 1930s dentist and dental researcher Weston Price. Price studied the diets of indigenous communities and argued they had superior health than urban populations as a result of eating more nutrient dense and less processed foods.

"The information needs to get out there - not just to New Zealand but to the world. There are a lot of people living in urban centres with little space who don't know where to start, don't know how to garden," she said.

The garden currently has 35 heritage fruit trees, 40sq m of planting beds, a rabbit nest above a worm farm,chickens, bees and, a composting system which had produced more than the garden was able to use. Gawlik said the garden, built 16months ago, was "flourishing" and fruit and vegetables had been harvested daily.

She described the garden as a "research project" and said it was different than a community garden because it recorded the gardens output daily to make sure "what we are doing is working".


An illustrated map of the Koanga Institute's "urban" garden. Image / Supplied


Money raised from the crowdfunding campaign would go towards maintaining and ongoing monitoring of the garden's development, including building a composting toilet, installing a water filtering system, and hiring an intern. The findings would then be published so people could recreate a similar garden in their backyard.

In 2014, when the owner of the land that the Kohanga Institute is on decided to sell up, Baxter embarked on a national tour to raise the $705,000 needed to purchase it and secure the future of the organisation. 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.

Baxter said via email that enough money had been raised to secure the mortage however a second campaign would be launched soon to hopefully pay off the amount owing and put the property into a community land trust.

In regards to the aims of the Urban Garden Project, Baxter said: "We are keen to show people what they can do even in tiny spaces."

For more information about the crowdfunding campaign and the Urban Garden Project click here.