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    Gubinge: the Australian Indigenous Superfood and the highest natural source of Vitamin C on the planet

    One day a couple of years back, Bruno walked into the health food store in Broome. The store had some of Loving Earth’s Goji and Camu Camu raw chocolate bars, Camu Camu being a very high Vitamin C berry from the Peruvian Amazon. The woman working in the shop knew him and so she said “Hey Bruno! Check this out! These guys have this stuff from the Amazon that's real high in Vitamin C, but that Gubinge, it's much better, you should get him onto it!”. Bruno contacted us and we started a dialogue; Scott went up there during the Gubinge harvest and had a great time, camping out on the land, picking Gubinge up in trees for hours, fishing and living off the local bush tucker...and it all went from there.
     

    The Highest Source On The Planet

    Gubinge is a bush plum; there's a lot of hype around stuff coming out of the Amazon, Acai and so on, but Gubinge is a really powerful indigenous Australian superfood. It's the highest natural source of Vitamin C on the planet, and that's been verified. The species is called Terminalia Ferdinandiana, more popularly known as the Kakadu plum, and it grows in the Kakadu and the Kimberleys. The Kimberley version however has tested higher than the Kakadu version for Vitamin C. In the Kimberleys, where it is known as Gubinge, they're not irrigating it or cultivating it using typical commercial horticultural techniques, which a number of operations up in the Northern Territory are doing. Essentially, those precious vital phytonutrients (the antioxidants within plants) are there to make the plant itself stronger. They do the same for the plant as they do for us, so if you pamper the plant too much, it doesn't need them anymore! If that plant is in its natural environment and there's a certain level of environmental stress present, that makes the plant stronger, so you get these higher levels of antioxidants.

    The Gubinge Powder that we produce and market under the Nyul Nyul brand is a raw whole food and in terms of the nutritional aspects, it's one of the only high Vitamin C products on the market that literally is a whole food. To make it we simply take the whole frozen fruit, dehydrate it at 40ºC for 16 hours and then mill it into a powder, so in essence all we have done is take away the water: everything else is there in the powder. The thing about it being a whole food is that nature packages these things in such a manner that they can easily be absorbed; Vitamin C is one important phytonutrient, but like most things, for that to be absorbed into the system, there are a couple of other things that the body really needs to be able to properly utilise it. Those other things are also important and carry out functions, but in our Western approach we tend to reduce things; there is in fact a whole, so in terms of a supplement it's amazing. It's packaged with everything; not only is it the highest natural source of Vitamin C, but it also includes everything else your body needs to assimilate the Vitamin C. All the synthetic Vitamin C supplements and extracts, they're going to be a lot cheaper in terms of milligram for milligram of Vitamin C. In terms of overall effectiveness however...they're incomparable. Two different worlds.

    Back To The Land

    Bruno is one of the stolen generation from the area north of Broome, near James Price Point, where they're planning on putting in the massive gas hub. He lived a fairly traumatic life, taken away from his mother at birth by missionaries. Back then it was law that Aboriginal women had to give birth in hospital, so that their babies could immediately be taken and given to missionaries. Bruno's mother ran away and actually gave birth to him in the wilderness, hence Bruno’s special connection with the land; on the weekends they'd let him go and spend time with the elders, but when he came back, if the missionaries found out that he'd been speaking his language or engaging with his culture, he was beaten. Yet they couldn't stop him: Bruno picked up enough traditional knowledge that together with his partner Marion, he was able to start reviving those traditional ways of taking care of the land. Gubinge grows up there in natural wild orchards, three or four trees together throughout the Bush. Each year the fire comes through and destroys everything, so what Bruno and his people began doing is back-burning, clearing the dead wood so that the fire's not coming through any more. They soon noticed that through these traditional ways of taking care of the land, the Gubinge trees started producing more fruit...

    Each year Bruno coordinates the harvest. The picking season goes from December through March. Depending on the weather, it can be as long as three months or as short as six weeks, and there are designated spots where people can pick from. Most of the harvesters are from Bruno's language group and the surrounding areas and people get paid by the kilo, so come Gubinge season, everyone gets out on the land and picks it. It's a really good project because it's a high-value product and it's something that's growing wildly, so there's a fair bit of it around and it's sustainable. The other thing that Bruno is doing is working with people to show them how to care for the land throughout the rest of the year. People see what Bruno's achieved and then they say alright, we're going to do that as well. It's not just about the Gubinge: it's about the whole environment. If you're taking care of the land, the Gubinge will thrive...but so will everything else. Gubinge is their asset, it's the thing that they've got up there. It's something that's benign, that's sustainable and supports the environment. The other main industry up there is mining, which is unsustainable and which destroys the environment.

     

    Kimberley Bruno Gubinge{image - Bruno in the Kimberly Region}

     

    It took us at Loving Earth a couple of years to really get the project going, since we needed to develop the infrastructure and figure out how we were going to process the fruit. Scott stayed in touch with Bruno, and when we finally got our commercial dehydrator and found a special grinding machine from India, we were in business. That was a couple of years after the initial contact, during which time we'd been working on the post-harvest infrastructure to collect, clean and pack the fruit into frozen storage. With everything in place to really get stuck into the project, Scott returned for harvest season two years after first contact...the difference was amazing. The traditional harvesting techniques were paying massive dividends, and the quality was incredible. We got the frozen fruit down here to Melbourne and figured out how to process it into a powder. We did some trials, got some tests done and found out that we were getting really high levels of Vitamin C. That's when we began commercialising it. We got our graphic designer to come up with a logo, Nyul Nuyl, which is the language group for Bruno's people, and this is the brand we have created for the community up there.

    Together We Can Change The Future

    This year the Gubinge is finally starting to sell quite well, and now that it's building momentum we're hoping that next year we'll be able to really go for it. The plan is to buy as much Gubinge as those guys can harvest so that it'll become their full income and a really fruitful business venture for the Nyul Nyul community up there. We're doing this on a not-for-profit basis, so we finance the harvest, all the fruit comes down here and then we process and sell it to try to recover our costs. It's a way of giving back to the indigenous community and helping them put in more infrastructure up there. The project's also helped them move forward their native title claim, for which they needed funds to push through the system, so hopefully that'll go through this year. Once that's fixed up we can apply for the organic wildcrafted certification for their lands.

     

    Organic Gubinge Powder{image - organic Gubinge Powder}

     

    Bruno is also working on an ecotourism project, so there's a couple of architects working on setting up some beautiful ecofriendly accommodation structures on Bruno's land, with the idea being to have people spend time on the land and get to experience the traditional Aboriginal bush life. Eventually the goal is to actually get them to make the powder up there once we build enough momentum. Setting up the infrastructure costs a lot of money, and although Loving Earth doesn't make any money off Gubinge, if we ever cover our costs we'll be happy. Even if we just come close, we'll be delighted! It's an investment in our indigenous community and environment, because we believe in that community. In many ways, the Gubinge project brings Scott's original concept of enabling indigenous communities to help themselves back full circle. From India, through Mexico, back to Australia. Next week we'll be getting a bit deeper into the title of our series, and taking a look at just exactly how Food Is Sacred. Take care and see you then!

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