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Urban farming the focus of $100,000 research award

Farm Next Door is a growing network of small-scale urban organic market gardens.

An urban farming initiative is at the centre of the first $100,000 Pivot Award, a premier research award aimed at enabling innovation in Taranaki's agriculture sector.

The inaugural award will fund a partnership project between Farm Next Door – a growing network of small-scale urban organic market gardens in central New Plymouth led by Carl Freeman – and Massey University researchers and associates.

The successful research project, titled ‘Farm to Flourish’, will be led by social anthropologist Associate Professor Sita Venkateswar, from the School of People, Environment and Planning, Associate Head of the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing Dr Nitha Palakshappa, and Dr Dirk Roep from Wageningen University, Netherlands, whose Rural Sociology Group has been involved in various studies on alternative value chains and food networks in the Netherlands and Europe.

Farm Next Door is a group of local food producers using regenerative methods ­­– which include a strong focus on soil health and crop diversity – to supply their local community in a supply chain that is sustainable both environmentally and economically.

Carl Freeman's garden surrounds his central New Plymouth home.

Research will focus on Farm Next Door’s next phase of development in growing a new urban farming community and an expanding network of local producers who earn income from their land and supply local values-based produce for local consumers.

Dr Venkateswar says the project is about having a deeper understanding of this growing movement and shifting mindsets around food production.

“Regenerative agriculture is gaining momentum among farmers and growers nationally and internationally. The movement is about improving the health of a farm’s ecosystem, soil health, nutrient content in food and farm profitability.”

Dr Palakshappa says the research with Farm Next Door will be a testing ground for new economic and business models that – if proven successful – can then be used to aid similar initiatives. The team also plans to run public workshops, supported by the research award.

“True transformational change hinges on the ability to harness knowledge, practice and the power of community when parties are brought together to engage meaningfully. This is exactly what we are doing here,” she says.

Back: Bishop’s Action Foundation chief executive Simon Cayley, Massey University dean enterprise Gavin Clark, Massey University business development manager (Taranaki) Eve Kawana-Brown. Front: Bishop’s Action Foundation deputy chair Mary Bourke and Massey Provost Professor Giselle Byrnes in July 2019, when the Award was launched.

New approaches to local food production

The award was launched in 2019 and is a joint initiative between the University and the Taranaki-based Bashford-Nicholls Trust. Its purpose is to support connections between University researchers and organisations, community groups or individuals in Taranaki who wish to undertake or apply research that supports the economic, social or environmental development of the region.

Massey’s Business Development manager in Taranaki, Eve Kawana-Brown says this research complements wider regional programmes that are underway.  “Taranaki is positioning itself to meet its vision of becoming a low emissions economy as articulated in its Taranaki 2050 Roadmap.

“A project like this can offer a great deal in terms of initiating and supporting innovative approaches to food production, marketing and consumption and build on the valued farming and horticulture capability that already exists in Taranaki.”

The University’s Provost Professor Giselle Byrnes says the award and successful project has the potential to contribute to solving national and international challenges that food producers are facing, as the world’s population expands.

“Massey University is internationally recognised in areas such as agrifood, veterinary science, environmental science and resource management and our ability to partner with regional organisations like the Bashford-Nicholls Trust to make a difference in communities is something we are very proud of.”

Bishop’s Action Foundation chief executive Simon Cayley says “We’re excited that the inaugural Pivot Award will not only help Taranaki’s agricultural transition towards 2050, but is supporting a community-led initiative that aligns closely with our aims of creating flourishing communities.”

For more information or to register your interest to grow or buy local produce, visit

About the Bashford-Nicholls Trust

The Bashford-Nicholls Trust operates two dairy farms in South Taranaki with the aim of generating surpluses to enable scholarships for agriculture and veterinary science study and research. The Bashford-Nicholls Trust is managed by the Bishop’s Action Foundation, a charitable organisation that works throughout Taranaki, researching, collaborating and supporting projects that help the Taranaki community to flourish.

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