The base of the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust is its two hectare property in Springvale, Whanganui. The heart of this is a modern building which is primarily used for seed drying and storage, as well as activities such as seed sorting and packaging. There are also two greenhouses, used for growing tomatoes, capsicums and other warm-climate crops over the main growing season, mainly for research purposes and seed production.
The property overall has been managed organically for 20 years, and has established shelter belts and several water sources. Outside the greenhouses, there is a large range of heritage fruit varieties grown, particularly apples and stone fruit. Various vegetables are also collected and grown, with a focus on traditional climbing bean varieties; potatoes and kumera. The Trust imported 10 heritage wheat varieties and is engaged in bulking up the seed for future research on gluten intolerance. Managing all this is an enthusiastic team of experienced volunteers, with a diverse range of research, gardening, cultivation, plant and food knowledge and expertise.
The Trust actively seeks out and develops partnership relationships with those organisations with a compatible focus. These currently include:
Plant and Food Research: A CRI (Crown Research Institute) which has the goal of providing research and development that adds value to fruit, vegetable, crop and food products. The Trust has over the years commissioned Plant and Food to conduct research into the health benefits of a range of heritage varieties of apples, tomatoes and other crops.
Massey University (Palmerston North): The Trust currently supports a PhD student at the university to study the role that tetra-cis-lycopene found in some heritage golden/orange tomatoes may play in reducing the incidence of osteoporosis.
The Trust is working to fund further research on the disease-inhibiting benefits of the Monty’s Surprise apple.
Further crops: The Trust is collecting seeds and other propagating material from the following food species with an eye towards further research:
- Pre-1900 wheat varieties
- Heirloom potatoes (particularly purple-skinned “Maori” potatoes)
- Heritage Carrots
Sustainable Whanganui Trust (SWT): The Trust works in partnership with SWT to provide heritage fruit trees for free distribution throughout the local community.
Seed bank and fruit tree collection: The Trust collects and stores seed for research purposes as well as distribution to the community. The seeds are all open-pollinated heritage varieties that grow true to type. They can therefore be shared widely as a low-cost health initiative to empower communities, without being subject to the restrictions, disadvantages and costs associated with patented hybrid cultivars.
The Trust also maintains an extensive collection of heritage fruit trees, as a gene bank for community access. Seeds, plants, grafting wood and grafted trees are provided to domestic gardeners and are also available to commercial growers, along with the findings of the research to show their particular health benefits.