A group of enthusiastic new Whanganui residents have raised the funds to set up a school for healthy environmental living on a farm in Papaiti Rd.
The Learning Environment is their provisional name for the nearly 70ha of hill and valley, 14km from central Whanganui.
The group of seven - Sam O'Sullivan, Emma Morris, Cameron Ryan, David Hursthouse, Julie Crocker, Ness Radich and Leo Gedye - have a wide range of skills.
They have participated in the Leadership for Change programme at Otago Polytechnic. All have part-time jobs to fund their involvement with the "living campus" they are setting up.
Their ethical fundraising campaign was "quite a challenge", O'Sullivan said. It raised more than $800,000-$550,000 to buy part of Melinda Hatherly and Murray Jones' farm, with the rest for improvements like a shed, tractor and accessway.
Most of the money was from United States environmentalists. The biggest funder, at $300,000, was the Namaste Foundation. About $160,000 was from New Zealand sources, including friends and family.
The group mainly wants to teach people aged 16-plus, and they plan to offer scholarships.
"We aren't trying to do something for wealthy people. We want to make courses available to the people who need them most," O'Sullivan said.
They have already helped Born and Raised Pasifika with an environmental project on Tutaeika Stream, and been involved with an Ag Challenge course and Te Oranganui Iwi Health Authority's Healthy Families initiative.
"The big thing for us is, what does Whanganui want? We want to fill the gaps."
They are realistic as well as idealistic, O'Sullivan said.
"We get stuff done."
They have established The Woven Rivers Charitable Trust which will own the land. None of the seven intend to live there, but they would like a shed or classroom to work from.
They have a business, Pīwakawaka Farm. It sells Monty's Surprise apple juice pressed from their two orchards, and weekly kai boxes from their garden.
They intend to sell native plants when a nursery is established, and offer ecological design.
A second business will run their education provision.
Instead of a hierarchy, the seven work in a holarchy.
"We are trying to teach people to collaborate in a way that decentralises power," O'Sullivan said.
Much is planned for the land. The swampy Tauraroa Stream that runs through the farm will have wetland and riparian planting, with plants funded by the Whanganui River Enhancement Trust.
The farm's hillside of gorse and regenerating bush hosts a lot of old man's beard, which the group aims to wipe out. They are trapping possums, rats and mustelids.
Their food garden is being extended and trialling Whanganui-produced Easy Earth compost. They plan a food forest.
All this comes with extras that make for mental wellbeing. O'Sullivan is a clinical psychologist and the group can offer classes in mindfulness as well as organic orcharding, market gardening, growing native trees and forest regeneration.
None of this could have been possible without the support of Hatherly and Jones, who sold them the land. Learning Environment member David Hursthouse, who is the chairman of Permaculture New Zealand, met Hatherly and Jones at a permaculture hui in Riverton in 2019.
The seven felt very welcomed by Whanganui, O'Sullivan said.
"No one questioned what we are doing. Instead they said 'Oh, great. How can we help?'"
For more information, go online to learningenvironment.nz.