Turning passion into a profession is a dream for many, but for Natural Evolution Founder and Director Robert Watkins that is exactly what he has done.
As a second generation farmer Robert has a strong farming philosophy and believes that ultimate nutrition begins with healthy soil and plants.
For many years Rob and his family were among the largest banana growers in Australia, specializing in a variety known as Lady Fingers. This variety requires 25-30% more labour to grow than ordinary Cavendish bananas and also has a reduction of 50% less plants per acre due to their height.
In 2008 Rob who is always inventing and thinking of more efficient practical solutions to farming designed a fully recyclable packaging system known as “Banana Blankey”. Banana Blankey reduces cost, handling and most importantly plastic packaging that bananas require for transport. Banana Blankies are made from a fully reclyclable P.E.T liner that fit into a fruit carton, cushioning the fruit on their sometimes 15000 km journey. Fruit would arrive in store ready to be presented and the only waste (the blankey liner) would be collected and recycled.
This invention saw Rob take out the episode winner of ABC’s New Inventors in 2009.
In 2010 Rob was crowned Young Farmer of the Year for his ingenuity in designing Banana Blankey but also in his new field of invention machinery designed specifically for banana harvesting and maintenance.
Week after week Rob would find himself disposing tonnes of beautiful Lady Fingers that he had poured so much energy and resources into growing all because they were too big, too straight or too bendy for the supermarket giants. The fruit was perfectly good for eating and packed full of nutrients. Like every week the local Agile wallabies would flock to the area eating as many green Lady Fingers their tummies could handle.
Cattle would break fences to get to *wasted green bananas. *wasted – unsuitable for specific supermarket guidlines approx 500 tonne in Australia every week.
Local Agile Wallabies would sit and wait every Friday afternoon for Rob to waste his unsaleable fruit.
Late one summer afternoon in 2010 Rob accidentally drove over a hand of lady fingers on the bitumen, what he saw in the rays of the setting sun was like dust, something he later named “diamond dust” due the difficultly in producing this superfood. This drove his inquisitive nature to ask and research could this be a flour? After suffering mild coeliac symptoms for years and not being impressed with the majority of gluten free products on the market Rob began producing a small batch of 6kg of banana flour per week sold through his families’ Café. The work was arduous as green bananas are extremely hard to peel. The first week it took all week for the gluten free “banana flour” to sell. The next week it was sold out by Wednesday, the following week it was sold out Monday morning and before he knew it people were phoning orders in and already months behind in filling requests!
Finally though Rob had found an outlet, an opportunity in the market. Rather than disposing of tonnes of beautiful Lady Fingers that had been so carefully grown with so much energy and resources. The fruit was perfectly good for eating and packed full of nutrients yet “unwanted” by the supermarket giants because they were too straight, too bendy, too big or too small.
This demand inspired Rob to refine the process of production, he needed more pulp from the Lady Fingers and fast. Hand peeling is uneconomical and ergonomically dangerous, the product would never be viable.
With dedication and innovation Rob designed the first and only peeling machine in the world. This increased output to approximately 300kg per week which also sold out weeks and often months in advance.
In August 2014 Mt Uncle’s Banana Flour was fortunate to secure a grant from Commercialisation Australia to assist in building the world’s first and only pharmaceutical grade banana flour factory.
This new facility will see output increase to approximately 8 tonnes of banana flour each week.
With capability and capacity building Rob and wife Krista give life to their new company Natural Evolution Foods. Natural Evolution Foods is founded on natural, nutritional, gluten free superfoods and bringing those foods to the world.
Throughout the last few years while only being able to supply the Australian market due to quantities the entire world has been knocking, all wanting Natural Evolution Green Banana Flour. Demand for the product is not only due to being gluten free but also because it is one of the highest resistant starch food sources in the world. What began as a purpose and use for tonnes of wasted bananas each week has evolved into a new market for all growers and not just for their waste. Growers finally have the option of another marketplace for their produce and in fact the potential to earn more for their higher grades of bananas. Rather than sending to the fresh food market growers have the option to supply Natural Evolution Foods enabling farms to save on packaging and freight especially when prices are low due to oversupply in the fresh fruit market.
The new Natural Evolution Foods facility is yet to be officially opened – opportunities available.
Banana Ointment is quite possibly the largest natural medicine breakthrough we will see in the world. The ointment is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. The ointment was made out of need. Rob and Krista own 3 blue heelers that constantly suffered “hot spots” a bacterial infection related to staph that is present in soils and surges in the tropical months with rain and sultry days. Fed up with antibiotics and cortisone creams two or three times per day with three dogs taking a number of weeks to heal Rob and Krista decided to turn to natural remedies in an attempt to heal their beloved dogs faster, more cost effectively and more nurturing. It was in the thermomix that their first batch of ointment was made – the result was astounding. After first trialing it on themselves Rob and Krista waited for the dreded infection to return on their dogs. In one application the “hot spot” infection stopped spreading, cleared and ceased to weep, new healthy skin could be seen reforming with new hair beginning to grow. The infection healed more than 10 times faster. From here the ointment was used on the farm for first aide burns, cuts, skin rashes etc. Word of mouth spread and people as far as North America began seeking the ointment to try on complicated skin issues. The banana ointment was born and has been used on arthritic pains, spurs, wart/sunspot removal, intensive healing, nappy rash, burns, blisters, minor cuts and abrasions, fungal and bacterial skin infections.
Years of observing wild life break fences to feast only on green bananas finally made sense when in 2010, Walkamin banana farmer Rob Watkins accidentally drove over a hand of bananas that had been baking in the Tropical North Queensland sun. In this moment the idea of commercial banana flour was born. With more than 450tonne of green bananas wasted each week in North Queensland, Australia - a problem had finally been solved. Just like Lewis Carroll’s protagonist Alice in Wonderland, Krista took a tumble down a rabbit hole of her own in 2010 when she and husband Rob made their first batch of green banana flour using fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste. Juggling a cutting-edge health food company with raising two young girls is no easy task.
For his enthusiasm and vision Robert has received numerous accolades for his inventions and food processing techniques. None more so than his ability to design a thriving business that began by transforming waste bananas into a highly nutritious food source and now revolutionizing the banana industry where bananas are being grown for the sole purpose of flour production.
Together we look forward to bringing you the most nutritious, natural and gluten free foods the world has to offer.
We are an all Australian grown, owned and made family business.
Natural Evolution Founders Rob and Krista Watkins with Daughters Kate 4, Kira 10 months