In 2018, Marlon Motlop noticed a gap in the market – for readily accessible native ingredients and First Nations foods, especially in his home state of South Australia. Fast forward two and a half years, and the original vision has scaled up – to creating a governance framework for distribution of these culturally significant foods, that ensures input from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups every step of the way.

 

Marlon Motlop met Damian Manno, Director at Quality Harvest and recently named Corteva Agriscience Young Grower of the Year in the National Awards for Excellence, through Marlon’s cousin Daniel – who himself works in native produce supply.

With the help of Joe Capobianco, it wasn’t long before they conceptualised and developed the Native Co. They produce a collection of native foods such as River Mint, Sea Parsley, Salt Bush and many more, available for consumers and on the wholesale market.

“Food is such a great way of bringing people together. It’s how we share our cultures and our stories,” says Marlon, Director and Farm Manager at Native Co.

But there were setbacks along the way.

 

Setbacks

Getting a new business off the ground is hard, but facing off with a global pandemic in your first few years of operating is another matter altogether. Marlon says there were moments when he wasn’t sure they were going to make it.

“I looked to Damian and Daniel a lot, for advice and guidance. There’s a meaningful and respectful relationship between the three of us,” he says.

A passion for preserving and sharing the cultural significance of these foods helped the team persist.

“A lot of these products have cultural properties, traditional meanings or have been used medicinally by First Nations cultures,” says Marlon.

“We wanted to explore, acknowledge and respect those roles first, before taking them into a commercial context.”

 

Raising awareness of First Nations food

The goal of Native Co is to make these products available at every level of the food spectrum, increasing awareness and knowledge of the unique tastes and precious qualities available in plants right here in Australia.

The Native Co website includes recipes for the herbs and greens it sells, easy swaps to make for your own favourite recipes and tasting notes. Scoring press and TV slots has also helped to elevate knowledge of these foods amongst Australians.

By creating greenhouse environments, Native Co has been able to revitalise endangered species of First Nations foods and preserve them for future generations – all with a minimal carbon footprint.

Wholesalers, retailers and consumers can all place orders directly through Native Co, and the products are also available to consumers at the Adelaide Central Markets.

Marlon says winning the Butler Market Gardens Environmental and Sustainability Award has helped shine a light on the real story of Australia, the history and lineage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and the other cultures we were trading with for hundreds if not thousands of years before colonisation. It was also an acknowledgement of “a lot of effort and persistence”.

 

Creating opportunities for First Nations peoples

Preserving these culturally significant foods, for Marlon, goes hand in hand with creating economic opportunities for First Nations peoples. Supply Nation has found that Indigenous-owned businesses are 100 times more likely to employ Indigenous Australians than non-Indigenous-owned businesses.

Setting up Native Co has given Marlon the opportunity to involve other First Nations people in a commercial context, and this is just the beginning for how these foods can contribute to income and commercial opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Marlon and the team behind Native Co are already diversifying and responding to shifts in the market as they appear. They are starting to consolidate the growing and production of Native Co products into Quality Harvest supply lines, freeing up some of Marlon’s time to explore other opportunities, such as First Nation Fresh Produce.

The concept started as a way to deliver fresh produce and essential items to Aboriginal communities during the pandemic. It’s now evolved into product evaluation.

Marlon has also been awarded a Nuffield Scholarship, which he is using to research how First Nations foods are being preserved, utilised and commercialised around the world. He is also exploring how to build a deeper understanding of Australia’s First Nations foods, their application and use around the country.

With so many diverse languages groups and Indigenous nations, there’s a lot of knowledge to tap into and learn from.

He says something he would love to do through the Nuffield Scholarship is not only bring insights from around the world back to Australia, but also to identify ways to protect and celebrate culture.

“[I’m keen to] create a framework or model for preserving these foods that has First Nations input every step of the way: from capturing traditional uses and cultural practices, harvesting and growing, right through to selling to consumers in a way that honours and shares the lineage of these plants and their significance.”

Not only an entrepreneur, Marlon is also a musician, collaborating with former AFL team mate Rulla Kelly-Mansell, amongst others. While he’s a busy man, his passion for sharing these foods and utilising their significance to uplift the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community keeps his feet firmly planted in the horticulture sector.

 

Sponsoring the Butler Market Gardens Environmental and Sustainability Award

Butler Market Gardens is very proud to be the on-going sponsor of the Environmental and Sustainability Award.

Sustainability is one of our business’ four core pillars of focus. We certainly understand and support its importance to the industry.

To us, sustainability is about strengthening and improving a business and the environment it works within.

We believe sponsoring this award prompts and promotes businesses and individuals to continually challenge, improve and refine practices and procedures within their business. It promotes innovative thinking and leadership within the industry and leads to collaboration and sharing of new techniques which strengthen the industry as a whole.

It’s very important we recognise and celebrate those who excel in this area to continue the growth.

The goal being to achieve on-going supply of great quality produce for generations to come.