NRF Member Stories: Rainforest Foods – Value Adding Australian Native Foods
A passion for conservation & regenerating combined with some basic business know how has led Anthony Hotson and family to their successful family value-add business ‘Rainforest Foods’.
Rainforest Foods is a pioneer in the evolving Australian native food industry. The people behind the brand are Anthony Hotson & Julz Martens and family. Their passion for conservation and regeneration of the Australian rainforest is obvious and has resulted in the planting and harvesting of an extensive range of native food plants for over 25 years. They grow a wide range of Australian rainforest fruits and spices on their farm including macadamias, Davidson plum and finger limes.
They use their produce to create and market an impressive range of quality value-add food products including jams, sauces, oils and macadamia nut products. They aim to produce the highest quality products using simple ingredients that showcase Australian native food plants to the world.
Because they are so dedicated and passionate about conservation and regeneration, they also make a point of giving back to rainforest projects to help fund the replanting of native rainforest and the conservation of critical Australian rainforest habitat.
“Having spent time in 1993 with Costa Rican botanists investigating the utility of some of their rainforest flora, we thought to look at our own backyard. The big scrub rainforest had been mostly cleared from our land during the 1800s, except for a small but healthy remnant, which we decided to restore and extend. One thing led to another and we planted out various species, including macadamias, Davidson’s plum and native limes. Our expectations for the growth of the market for this produce proved to be optimistic to say the least, and so we then began to value-add and market our own produce. Now we have a very busy small business, employing between seven and twenty people, and a beautiful family farm in the prime of its productivity.”
Why Australian Native Foods?
The Hotson family planted their orchard back in 1995 – 1997. They believe the flavours and nutritional properties of most Australian native foods are powerful and they have (finally) forged a place in our collective cuisine over the past few years.
Their business principles and ethos are simple – “leave things better than we found them” and they base all their farm management and business practices on these principles. They say that “with our increasingly extreme climate, it is all the more important to grow the right food in the right place, in the right way”.
Commercialising Rainforest Plants
It is well known that the local indigenous people collected edible native plants from our rainforests for tens of thousands of years. Over this time they developed detailed knowledge of what to collect, when to collect and how to prepare these foods. Following colonisation we have seen widespread clearing of the local Big Scrub rainforest in the region and this information either remains in the hands of a few or it has been lost.
Commercialising the production of edible rainforest plants can be tricky – how to replicate what happens naturally in native forests on your own farm is not always straight forward or obvious. Producers often have to trial different methods of collecting and processing seed and propagating plants over many years before they reach success. The propagation of rainforest plants from seed can be quite complex because of the huge variety of seed types each with their own idiosyncrasies but for the Hotson’s this is all part of their passion for conservation and regeneration.
“It was always a conscious choice to put species which originally grew on our land back into the ground here. Their pre-adaptation, resilience and cross-benefits to the local ecosystem make these species a wise choice (and similar species from up or down the east coast rainforest regions). That said, commercialising the production of ‘new’ species is much more difficult than established crops.”
Rainforest Foods website: https://www.rainforestfoods.com.au/
Davidson Plum, New Industry Handbook-Native Food, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Canberra, Pub.No.08/021, Hotson, A. (2000).