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Crowd Funding Land Stewardship in Whanganui

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

It has been over three months since our first large-scale funding campaign, and you’re probably wondering what’s happening next.

For those of you who don’t know, over 80 donors of all shapes and sizes supported us to raise over $800,000 to purchase Pīwakawaka Farm and establish early infrastructure!

But before we let slip what's next, we thought we’d take this moment to look back.

2019 - Julie Crocker, Coordinator, getting into some early planning in our flat on Waiheke

Years of countless hui (meetings), conversations, hard mahi and decisions have all coallessed together to create the reality we have today.

Our vision is simple - to support communities across Aotearoa to go beyond sustainability and toward thriving life.

Four years ago we set out on an ambitious yet uncertain mission to develop a model for tertiary education that harnesses students' natural curiosity to learn and develop personal, community, and environmental wellbeing. Over these years, we have taken small, persistent steps to achieve this goal.

The seed for the learning environment began when we realised the widespread desire for community-led environmental and social initiatives was not matched by the skills and knowledge required to turn these motivations into reality.

In response, we imagined a place of learning to empower individuals to flourish mentally and emotionally while supporting the development of skills in food production, forest regeneration, and self-organisation. Our startup began with each of us contributing $10 a week to a modest fund and countless in-kind hours, enabling us to hone our vision, organisational systems, and educational approach.

Eventually we arrived at our biggest challenge yet, finding land. It was early 2019 when Melinda Hatherly & Murray Jones first appeared in our lives. For over a decade, Melinda and Murray had stewarded a valley on the banks of the Whanganui river called Pīwakawaka Farm. Their inherent passion for learning, community, and environmental wellbeing was a fitting match for our project. With the help of Melinda and Murray, we finally had the land to turn our concepts into reality. Ever since that fateful day two years ago we have been working on how to achieve mutually beneficial land succession, and so began our funding campaign.

Melinda Hatherly & Murray Jones at Pīwakawaka Farm

We started by sharing our vision through information packs across our networks. It was through doing this that we caught the eye of Namaste Foundation. Based on their advice, and that of Joshua Fouts (experienced nonprofit fundraiser from the Edmund Hillary Fellowship), we began a new campaign strategy. Instead of seeking huge donations from a few sources, we shifted to seeking smaller donations from across our networks, taking the time to meet with people and share our vision more deeply.

Sung at the beginning of every campaign meeting.

Our first big donation left us reeling, our hopes rose, as a small thought crept into our minds and we thought; ‘Wow, maybe this IS possible?!’ We then got in touch with The Gift Trust, who coordinates donations from USA-based philanthropists. The Gift Trust made it easy for us to receive donations from the USA, and they enabled us to receive over 70% of the total funds raised.

Matthew Monahan then visited the farm on behalf of the Namaste Foundation. He spoke of our shared vision, we shared kai, and it was on this day, in February of 2021 The Namaste Foundation made their biggest donation yet ($300,000!). Tears of joy, relief, and gratitude followed. At the end of March, we finished the campaign with a total of over $800,000 raised. $250,000 over what we had hoped for.

Leo Gedye, Coordinator, giving Matthew Monahan a special gift at Pīwakawaka Farm

This blog is our opportunity to revisit our story and to express our gratitude for the immense possibilities opened up by the generosity of all our supporters. It is thanks to the unconditional offerings from our funders that we can move forward to ensure the long term viability of the Learning Environment, so that it can grow into the abundant ecological sanctuary we envision it to be.

So what’s happening now?

With land succession now underway, we are focusing even more fully on community engagement, local relationships, co-designing how the Learning Environment will look and feel, and investing in some foundational infrastructure.

Planning for our community co-design on the plateau at Pīwakwaka Farm

The apples have been picked, the gardens are growing, and we’re getting local food into local bellies. We’ve begun hosting our first learning exnces for youth in collaboration with local education providers, and our farm-based social enterprise is beginning to hum.

It is humbling, exciting and incredibly gratifying to be moving forward with the support of our generous funders and change-makers all over the world.

Ngā mihi nui,

Thank you. Written by Georgia McCrory-Bowick, Sam O’Sullivan, and Dave Hursthouse


Our funders were vetted through an ethical framework we created to ensure the money we received came from institutions and individuals who aligned with our kaupapa.

Our three main criteria were:

  1. To only receive funding from those whose values aligned with our kaupapa.

  2. To avoid drawing money from Whanganui-based sources to ensure the financing of the land was not taken from limited local funding, thus ensuring we were not hindering the development of other projects in the region. Our goal is to bring money into the region, not drain it!

  3. Ensure strong relationships could be cultivated with our funding partners. For us, relationships are as important as breathing.

You can learn more about the ins and outs of the campaign through our funding FAQs (located below the video updates).

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