The power of the perennial tree crop

Feeding communities of the future

September 3rd, 2021

Winter and early Spring are a great time to get those trees in the ground, giving them a good chance to settle roots and prepare for the dry Summer months. As climatic shifts and global weirding looks set to threaten our food security, biodiversity and social cohesion, are community orchards and more planting of fruit and nut trees the answer?

Apples on a tree

The dominant crops we plant are annual - planted, harvested and replanted every year. Perennials come back every year with similar yield and higher rates of carbon sequestration. Staple foods from trees include fruits like bananas and breadfruit, oil rich avocado, and nuts like macadamia and hazelnut. These trees can be a part of forest farms, multi-level agroforestry or intercropping systems.

They can also reverse erosion, runoff and create higher infiltration rates for rainwater. You can grow them on steep slopes and in a variety of soils while they also require lower inputs of fuel, fertiliser and pesticides. If you create a diverse orchard, the system can often become self managing, creating fantastic habitats for wildlife and generally encouraging greater bio-diversity than parks and gardens.

Which is why urban, community orchards could be such a nifty solution to feeding and supporting people in city environments. Planting orchards in urban areas increases tree coverage, the benefits of which include more shade coverage and cooling effects as summer temperatures increase. Increased rainwater uptake and a carbon sequestration rate of 3.34 tonnes per hectare, every year, for decades, perennials produce 2.4 times more food than annuals grown in the same area. They cost 40% less to produce than annuals (trees just kinda grow and fruit with very little input required). There is always abundance and enough to go around when you have mature perennial tree crops producing.

We visited Mel, one of the founders of Wellington's first urban community orchard, now mature, busting with life, insects, fruits and people and positioned in a busy walkway next to a school in Brooklyn. The project started by guerilla planting available space, asking for permission from Council while proving the case. All of the trees had stories attached to them. There was still fruit on the trees because the community knew to fill only their pockets, not their bags, so to leave some for others to enjoy. Kids picked fruit for their lunchbox on the way to school. It felt like a wonderful place to go and bump into people, learn about what likes to grow in that area and find inspiration from the place and purpose. We take you for a look around the orchard in our short documentary, Growers of Aotearoa, with a sneak peak below.

Perennial staple tree crops can weather and thrive under environmental conditions that annuals cannot. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, one in five people experience regular food insecurity, eg. not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Imagine creating a future where there is so much food and abundance being created through using our available space to support bio-diversity and connection with each other. In the warming world, can we afford not to plant fruit and nut trees everywhere? Ask for forgiveness, not for permission, start growing and logging what you're planting at If you need advice on how to grow your plants, check out the Growing Guide. We'll be following up with more info soon on how you can easily create new trees and plants for free, and actively participate in restoring bio-diversity and improving local access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.

A homegrown solution to the climate crisis

Why you should know about how to grow vegetables and herbs

June 5th, 2021

Leafy greens provide us with some really vital micro-nutrients and are so important in the transition to increasing the plant based content of your diet and good health. Winter is a perfect time to grow them and Summer, the perfect time to collect their seeds, ready for the next planting season.

Kale, as an example, is considered one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, high in Vitamin K, A and C and also anti-oxidants that help maintain great eyesight amongst other things. Other greens are just as beneficial. Many can be grown year round and easily turned into stunning, nutritious and tasty meals. You're basically eating for free, with minimal effort.

Kale vegetable

Maybe what you didn’t know, is that according to recent NZ based research, the case for growing your own has additional benefits to your long term health, and that of your friends, family and global neighbours.

The benefits of some real, meaningful climate action when you figure the figures out.

According to Otago University, leafy greens (so your kales, silverbeets, mesclun, lettuce, spinach, microgreens, cabbage etc) have just over 3kgCO2e/kg (or 3kg of carbon emissions for every kilogram of greens)..which means per weight of leafy greens, grown at home, nutritionally better for you, fresh from your garden, you save 3 times their weight in emissions!

Graphic showing carbon emissions relating to food and vegetables in New Zealand

Source The Mouthful

Doesn’t sound like much? Our family of four ate 1kg (easily) of homegrown leafy greens this week. There’s enough amongst our 4 cavolo nero plants, 4 collard green plants, mesclun, kale and herb pots to harvest lots more than this. Every week.

It is reasonable to assume that every New Zealander (every global citizen?) has the space for the pots to be able to grow at least some of their own leafy greens. If 5 million New Zealanders ate this way, year round,

we’d collectively save 260,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

Sure, that’s a long way from zero-ing our current 84 million tonnes of emissions per year but it’s also a long way from insignificant. It shows that if we all do a little, the impacts can be far greater than we might expect.

Through this one, relatively small action of growing your own vegetables, a lot of things are happening:

Now here’s the really interesting bit. In a 2017 study in Santa Barbara, researchers modelled the potential for carbon sequestration in a vegetable garden, compared to other options for your outside space like lawns.

So genuinely, along with all the other benefits we’ve already mentioned, we can also propose it may be possible to save our planet’s eco-systems simply by home-growing more veg. Are you ready to get growing yet? Try out our planting diary to add your plants and keep track of what you're growing, including your harvests, to measure your impact and make growing easy.

Seed collection and sharing

Why you should know about the importance of heritage and open pollinated seeds

February 16th, 2021

In the UK, pictures emerged just before Christmas, as the result of a new Covid strain and unexpected lockdown, of trucks filled with supplies parked on motorways. They were unable to reach their final destination and UK citizens became instantly aware of food security issues in a country dependent on overseas food exports.

Line of food trucks

This week, Auckland entered Level 3 lockdown, with the remainder of New Zealand in Level 2 and an uncertain future as we head towards Autumn and Winter when the bugs and viruses love to thrive. Wherever you’re from, whatever your background, food is something which links all of us as human beings, and animals and plant life. This common connector is a need for every living thing. When it is threatened, our survival instincts have to kick in - it’s evolution. It’s why we’ve survived for this long. And it’s why many countries are experiencing a boom in demand for seeds and seedlings, in recognition of our animal instincts to adapt and survive. To have the capacity to grow some of our own food, improve food security and sovereignty alongside the ability to avoid reliance on supermarket shopping.

In Aotearoa, in our first lockdown in Winter 2020, sales of greenhouses sky-rocketed, as our people realised their capacity to avoid lengthy queues at supermarkets and price gouging beyond their control. Sales of seeds went gang-busters with suppliers unable to cope with demand. The same is true of many other countries around the world. Our survival instincts have kicked in, gardening was recognised as one of the top activities for lockdown and greenhouses are the must have item to ensure year round growing and limit the need to visit the supermarket.

The similarities between the actions needed to address climate change and our Covid survival instincts are enormous. Seed collection, citizen growing and therefore seasonality, low food miles and sustainable cities have to be part of our solution to becoming more resilient. Growing our own food is how we have survived the last few hundred thousand years. It’s how we get through the next few. Personal responsibility for the greater good and collaboration with each other to create abundance. Because if the systems break that provide everything we want, we now all know the most important things we need for our survival. We started Greenback with the understanding that there are ways to take climate action which are triple-wins. They don’t require big business subsidies or governments to implement. For people (making healthy, nutritious food more accessible with health and well-being benefits to add), planet (eliminating emissions, sequestering carbon, climate proofing our landscapes and increasing bio-diversity) and pocket (to everyone collaborating in their action and future generations, through limiting the $700 trillion cost of climate change).

Seeds, the embryos of plants and trees, and their supply are globally largely controlled by only a few corporations. After mergers, 4 dominant companies control over 60% of seed markets.

Seed company ownership

Our indigenous cultures, marginalised and colonised, know how important it is not only to preserve seed but also to select the best plants which have adapted to the unique local environment. Their close connection with the lands, plants, water, animals, sky is all about observation and preservation for survival. The wealth of different kinds of corns, uniquely adapted for some of the harshest climates in the world are just one example of the importance of diversity as we enter a climatically uncertain period of human history. Indeed the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance state "Seeds are a vibrant and vital foundation for food sovereignty, and are the basis for a sustainable, healthy agriculture. We understand that seeds are our precious collective inheritance and it is our responsibility to care for the seeds as part of our responsibility to feed and nourish ourselves and future generations." There is untold and unrecorded bio-diversity remaining. Grandma’s lemon tree, Great Grandpa’s pumpkins. Perhaps even more so in Aotearoa where we are GMO free and in gardens, pots and communities there is huge potential resource of open pollinated, heritage seeds that have evolved with us over the last few hundred years to perform beautifully in our climate. Although there are a few seed suppliers here, much our seed comes from hybridised varieties bought on the international market from the big suppliers. was designed, in part, to record, track and share real-time information on which species of plants do well where, while also making it really easy to trade, buy or sell a wider range of heritage and open pollinated plants and seeds.

It's seed collecting season right now here in New Zealand. Sign up today to receive our newsletter on what's happening and how to get involved with improving our food security, food sovereignty and grow together! Kia ora!