an epic adventure into healing honey

1191 893 In Good Company | Northern Rivers

Gather By
1/200 Southern Cross Dr, Ballina NSW 2478

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an epic adventure into healing honey

Gather By is a closed-loop regenerative agribusiness that works with beekeepers and landholders in NSW and Queensland, and investors around Australia to produce and market rare, pure and potent Australian Manuka honey.

The business, with its headquarters near Ballina/Byron Gateway Airport, is reinvigorating Australia’s honey industry and is exporting 90% of its products to meet strong global demand for medicinal and therapeutic qualities of Manuka, used for everything from healing infections, burns and wounds, to soothing sore throats, and boosting gut health and immunity.

The work that has gone in over the past nine years to get to this point is a cross between Indiana Jones and David Attenborough.

The story of research and development begins in 2011 with Gather By founder and chief executive, Matt Blomfield, returning from New York where he’d been leading an information security business. He took some time out to quietly renovate an old boat near Sydney. “I went into deep introspection of all my life experiences and from that I decided to look into our food security here in Australia and what was going on,” Matt says.

“Food supply in the hands of corporations with large monoculture plantings is not good for us humans, our habitat, or our native flora and fauna. The onset of climate volatility is putting considerable pressure on our food security.”

As he was pondering how to put his experience, skills and resources towards his food security initiative, he was fortuitously had a work visit to New Zealand and discovered that Manuka beekeepers there earn $10 to $50 per kilo of honey using one Australian indigenous plant variety, Leptospermum scoparium, and from that, New Zealanders have built a $600 million industry.

When Matt researched the Australian beekeeping industry he found that Australia has 87 varieties of Leptospermum, also known as Manuka or Jelly Bush. Despite this, many beekeepers were struggling to earn a living, often receiving only $5 a kilo (or less) for their honey, and most were aged well into their 60s and 70s. This was happening as the Australian market was becoming saturated by tonnes of cheap honey imported by multinational corporates to sell to Australians, often with misleading labelling. The future of the honey industry looked dire, but from that there was opportunity.

“By joining the dots of all my life experiences, and acting on this opportunity, I invested my life savings into this food security initiative: to build healthy honeybee colonies by growing Australian native bushes to produce a high-value medicinal and therapeutic honey. I assembled a team and with purpose, passion and persistence we have made Gather By what it is now,” Matt says.

With dots joined, Matt brought a small team of specialists and an angel investor and went on an epic journey through remote Australian bushland in search of the remaining stands of Leptospermum. It took five years – many years longer than any of them expected. It involved tough physical conditions with Matt and two other researchers sitting deep in the bush in 30 to 40c subtropical heat, testing thousands and thousands of plants for their antibacterial and antibiotic strength, making detailed notes, geocoding plant locations, and sending cuttings to specialised plant propagation nurseries.

The team collaborated with University of the Sunshine Coast and University of Western Australia to identify the valuable molecule in the nectar of these plants, Dihydroxyacetone (or DHA) “Some of the varieties we found were 10 times higher in DHA than the New Zealand plants.” And the higher the DHA in the nectar, the higher the methylglyoxal (MGO) in the honey (which is compound responsible for strong antibacterial properties), the higher the value of the honey, the higher return to the grower or landholder.

The next steps weren’t straightforward even after finally locating and identifying multiple varieties of highly-active Leptospermum sources.

“The first plantings had multiple fails with 80 to 90% of the plants dying,” Matt says. This took more trial and error, more time, and more funds (with small private financial backing boosted by small government grants and collaboration with universities along the way).

“In subsequent plantings, by varying multiple parameters, we got through it and we had a planting model that worked with more than 90% of the plants surviving.”

This biodiverse planting model was named the ‘Medicinal Honey Forest (MHF)’ which included multiple varieties of Leptospermum plus bee fodder plants, designed to keep the bees ‘in situ’, healthy and strong, and to bring back our native fauna.

“It is a new way of beekeeping and honey farming: bring food to the bees and not truck bees to the food.”

Gather By now works with growers and landholders to grow these special plants and produce nectar. After a few years, honeybees are brought on by Gather By or local beekeepers to extract the honey. The honey is then stored for up to 12 months at temperatures to mature its strength, in Ballina in a new, controlled process to preserve all the honey’s beneficial enzymes.

The Manuka honey that Gather By collects and sells has superior potent quantities of MGO packed in jars with levels of 100, 250, 500, 800 and 1000 MGO. Higher MGO honey has stronger medicinal and therapeutic benefits, with lower being consumed for taste, general health and wellness.

“We set out as food security initiative and to do this ended up producing and exporting this world-premium medicinal and therapeutic honey while bringing diversification options to landholders and First Nation’s People, creating projects and jobs,” Matt says.

“This new closed-loop regenerative agribusiness is attracting younger beekeepers by bringing incremental income to regional communities with projects and jobs that have value, with MHF owners sometimes being paid more than $100 per kilo for ultra-high MGO honey”

Matt says the global market for high MGO honey is relatively new, with strong demand that is growing alongside interest in natural and complementary medicines. Now that all the development work has been done, and with multiple propagation nurseries in biosecure locations, and thousands of hectares under license grouped into MHF – the business is focused on growth.

Matt’s 10-year plan for Gather By is to create a half billion-dollar industry along the east coast of Australia, that will produce around 2000 tonnes of honey and employ hundreds of people directly and indirectly in the industry.

“Three years into that 10-year plan and we’re on track,” Matt says.

May it be a sweet and potent success.

“I decided to look into our food security here in Australia and what was going on”

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