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Bob Crowder book cover. By Matt Morris

Bob Crowder: A New Zealand organics pioneer, by leading garden historian Matt Morris, tells the story of Bob Crowder’s life and his role in the birth of the organics movement in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Growing up in wartime Britain, the peaceful pursuit of gardening was young Bob’s refuge. He later became an innovative horticulturalist and early champion of regenerative agriculture. After emigrating to New Zealand in the early 1960s, Crowder established the country’s only university-based organics research unit at Lincoln, where he experimented with new techniques and plant varieties and inspired generations of students.

A controversial figure within orthodox agricultural science, Crowder’s impatience with bureaucracy and criticism of industrial growing methods brought him into conflict with the mainstream. From the late 1970s on, he became an outspoken advocate of organics, helping to build a sector now worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

To those who knew him, Crowder was a larger-than-life character, pragmatic and visionary, but his homosexuality also made him an outsider in many ways, and he wrestled with the impact of homophobia throughout his career.

Scrupulously researched, drawing on extensive interviews with Crowder, and accompanied by full-colour illustrations, Bob Crowder: A New Zealand organics pioneer captures a complex man whose legacy goes beyond his achievements in horticulture.


Matt Morris completed a PhD on Christchurch’s garden history and works as the sustainability manager at the University of Canterbury. Matt also runs an organic sauerkraut business called The Urban Monk, and is the co-chair of Soil & Health Association National Council. He is deeply involved in community-led garden initiatives and has surrounded his home in New Brighton with fruit trees and vegetables. His previous book, Common Ground: Garden Histories of Aotearoa (Otago University Press, 2021) was shortlisted for the NZSA Heritage Literary Awards 2021.

Publication details

Paperback, 240 x 170mm, 248pp
ISBN 9781990048746, $45
Release date: 14 March 2024

Reviews and media

  • Read an extract from Bob Crowder: A New Zealand organics pioneer on Newsroom 
  • 'This urge to create beauty out of chaos, to restore the world through gardening, clearly never left him. He was only 8 when he found his calling. It took him a few decades to fully embrace it, but when he did, he flourished. Perhaps it was inevitable that I would end up trying to write his story.' –  Matt Morris speaks to the New Zealand Listener about his new book and how he came to write the story of Bob Crowder, New Zealand's leading organics pioneer
  • 'This is an origin story of the organics movement in New Zealand as parsed through Crowder's life and work, but this is also a story of so much more – of queer experience pre-1986, Morris dancing revivalism, DIY activist communities and local environmental movements – examples of hyper-regional narratives that activate the landscape and the Canterbury region in particular with a welcome multiplicity of voices, attitudes and affections.' – Louise Menzies for North & South (April 2024 Issue).
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