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Meet the seed-saving couple living entirely off the land (except for salt)

Kay and Ngaio Te Rito check the Pukekohe Long Keeper onion crop in the main seed garden.

You won’t find anyone in Kotare Village who doesn’t have brown hands. It’s not because they’re out in the sun all day or that they don’t wash their hands thoroughly, but because the human-soil connection is the most important factor in growing organic vegetables and fruit, fodder trees and pasture, seeds and tubers and it’s stained into their skin at a cellular level.

The village is home to the Koanga Institute, founded by organic and permaculture gardening guru Kay Baxter.

Her life for the past 30 years has been dedicated to developing a precious collection of heritage seeds and fruit trees, first in Northland, then on leased land near Wairoa. But just over a year ago Kay, her husband Bob Corker and their team faced the biggest challenge of their lives: eviction.

in the gloom of a quiet bedroom in the main Koanga homestead is a room full of treasures that money cannot buy €“.
TESSA CHRISP
in the gloom of a quiet bedroom in the main Koanga homestead is a room full of treasures that money cannot buy €“.

The development company that owned the land was foundering, the first mortgage holder was demanding a sale and everything they’d ever worked for was suddenly facing the auctioneer’s hammer.

“It’s been a really, really big journey holding the seeds for such a long time and the thought of starting again was too much,” says Kay.

Supporters like chef Peta Mathias got behind what would eventually be a successful nationwide campaign to raise the money to purchase the first mortgage on the property, although there’s still more financing required and a campaign to raise that money is now underway (kotarevillage.org.nz).

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