Previously we posted an article on native knowledge, a piece that touched upon giving back to the descendants of any nationality who are exercising efforts to preserve traditions and customs. Of those profiting from such knowledge, we struggled to find Australian companies in amongst the brand pool that were also demonstrating positive social impact. In doing so, ensuring their business practices are an intrinsic part of the preservation of traditional customs and endemic knowledge. Just as resources should be sustainable, so too cultural activities and wisdom should be respected and conserved. Well, clearly our search skills need to be honed as lo and behold one popped up on the radar not long after our post.....
Enter Tahlia Mandie. She launched Kakadu Plum Co. in 2015, a brand that in conjunction with celebrating the products themselves, nurtures the source of the products provided in the brand's range. Tahlia maintains hands-on interaction with the Aboriginal communities that help her harvest the traditional Australian bush foods offered in the Kakadu Plum Co range. Bruno, a traditional elder that Tahlia has formed a close connection with, experienced firsthand the impacts of Australia's turbulent history of the stolen generation. Tahlia has developed supply chains that inject funds directly back to the indigenous Aboriginals, who enjoy the harvesting work they do because it allows them to stay in touch with traditional land practices and their communities. The products offered by Kakadu Plum Co also contribute significantly to putting traditional Australian foods, superfoods, spices, herbs and teas on the map alongside their prolific international counterparts like acai and quinoa. Often native products are overlooked and this encourages Australians to enjoy what's in their own backyard. Tahlia notes on the Kakadu Plum Co site that there are over 5000 known native bush food varieties! If we don't celebrate these foods then we risk losing such integral components of our culture and history, the indigenous cultures surrounding them and the communities that brought them forth. Through the Kakadu Plum Co brand, Tahlia is helping to bridge this gap through increased awareness and enjoyment of her products, a range that is ever-expanding. Her site offers suggestions on how to use the products, their nutritional benefits and also never-ending recipes. We can't wait to experiment!
A Q&A with Tahlia Mandie, founder of Kakadu Plum Co.
When did you launch Kakadu Plum Co?
We launched in July 2015 and had our first product, Kakadu Plum Powder on the shelf in November 2015.
Tell us a little about the why - what's the true purpose (for you) for beginning Kakadu Plum Co?
We believe in an Australia where Indigenous culture is celebrated and honoured every day by all Australians. We have some of the best superfoods grown in our own backyard but we need to protect them. Not only are these bush foods great for you, but we can make a real social impact too. This is my purpose – Celebrate, honour and give back to Indigenous communities.
Your brand is based on the Kakadu plum, what's so meaningful to you about this fruit over the other products Kakadu Plum Co offers?
We started with Kakadu Plum Powder and wanted to celebrate this incredible fruit that is wild harvested by Indigenous people. Although our product range has grown, everything we do is based on Indigenous culture, bush foods and allowing Indigenous people to ‘get out on country’ forage and receive an ethical fair wage.
Tell us a little about the Kakadu Plum Co model for trading with Aboriginal communities for the food products you sell?
Kakadu Plums are wild harvested by Indigenous people in the top end of Australia. We have aligned ourselves with some communities north of Broome who coordinate the harvest, get their people on country and paid an ethical wage. We put in our order every season and help contribute to this ecosystem. The more demand we have, the more powder we sell, the more we can go back to the community and pay them more for picking of the fruit. Our Jilungin Tea is also wild-harvested by the same people that harvest our Kakadu Plums, another incredible bush food that is a little like green tea. We pay them directly to forage and pick for us.
Aboriginal people have had to deal with much hardship over the years including political turbulence, forced loss of livelihoods and exposure to Western socio-economic pressures. Did you face any challenges in establishing trust with the Aboriginal families you have met?
I am very proud of the relationships I have developed and feel very blessed to be able to represent them in some way and make the impact that we do. This is their land, their fruit and their culture and I see my role is to help celebrate this, build awareness and pay tribute. In time I hope to build more relationships with other communities to help them commercialise the bush foods they have growing in their backyard.
You've spent time with Aboriginal families, harvesting, learning about all the flora and fauna of the outback and experiencing the traditional Aboriginal way of life. What's the most touching/striking memory for you so far in the moments you've had with these communities?
Hearing the stories first hand. Being on country with traditional owners and being one with them.
Is there something from Aboriginal culture that you've learnt that's really surprised you/blown you away?
Right from the beginning I was surprised that Australians are not embracing traditional culture and bush foods in the way I believe they should. This is one of the reasons why I started Kakadu Plum Co. in the first place – to encourage more Australians to buy local superfoods as opposed to international varities. Every day I learnt more about different bush food varities. I learnt about Fig Weed just recently, which I had never heard about. There is so much our traditional Australians can offer and teach us.
Briefly, what is/are the biggest environmental challenge(s) for Aboriginal people in harvesting produce from the land?
Transport and logistics is hard. Because it is wild, they have to walk and drive kilometres to get from one tree to another. It is still very primitive in that there is no big technical tools used either. Because Kakadu Plums are grown wild, trees spread out over hundreds of kilometres. It is hot and time consuming too. Nothing like a controlled plantation in any way.
Aside from buying your products of course, in your view what are the best ways people can help to support Aboriginal communities becoming self-sustainable and preserving their land?
Awareness and education. The more we all work together to build awareness the more we become educated and able to invest in local communities and ecosystems. We hope to in time to contribute to projects that help fund Indigenous foraging activities and employment… stay tuned.
In the time you have spent with Aboriginal families, have they shared with you what they hope lies ahead for their communities with this growing interest in native Australian foods?
That they can forage and harvest more plums. They want to pick more. They want the income that is given from picking. As the demand increases, the more impact we can make on the ground.
What's your view on how we can best establish an economically sustainable landscape that nurtures and preserves the traditional Aboriginal lifestyle? i.e. is there something the government or local councils could be doing to really assist your brand and other support networks in developing these sustainable trading relationships?
I think there is a big gap but it is also being bridged. The demand for native foods is certainly growing, but we are only scraping the surface. In time we hope to raise funds to work on projects to help develop further sustainable bush food projects, including land care, education and community infrastructure development. We all need to work together to achieve greater impact and preservation.
Tell us about your collaboration with Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP) Australia?
ELP have helped an Indigenous community commercialise Gulbarn Tea, another traditional bush tea. We have bought directly from them, as this allows more funds to be going back into the community to help them forage more tea.
What potential do you see in the future for how Kakadu Plum Co can assist, support and collaborate with Aboriginal communities?
It is only the beginning for Kakadu Plum Co., the impact we are making and what we hope to do in the future. It is an exciting time for everyone.
What's your favourite recipe using Kakadu plum powder?
Kakadu Plum Smoothie – Simple – Just add 1 tsp of Kakadu Plum Powder to your favourite smoothie recipe. Easy. Simple. Delicious. Nutritious.