It’s all sunshine and coconuts in Cairns…well at least that’s what I tell friends from the southern part of the country, but one couple is taking this to a whole new level.
Jesse and Casey Willetts from Beach Harvest at Julatten near Port Douglas have taken to creating chips from coconuts harvested from beaches close to their Tropical North Queensland home. Casey says, “We harvest from around 50 kilometres of our home which includes Port Douglas, Newell Beach and sometimes the less populated Cooya and Wonga Beaches. In these areas, we are careful to harvest sustainably and never remove the whole crop from the trees”.
In the early days of the business Jesse and Casey collected from a wide variety of locations including a number of private properties but Casey says “Since rebranding 18 months ago we will only go to beaches. We have a lot of clients with specific health concerns and on many private properties there is a chance trees and coconuts have contact with pesticides. Not having their food sprayed is very important to these clients”.
Considering Beach Harvest collects and opens 500 – 600 coconuts every one to two weeks this is no small mission and the couple have scaled up their operation significantly since starting four years ago. “Whilst everything is still done manually we now have a coconut tool which is designed to make getting the flesh out a lot easier. Opening has really come a long way, when we first started we would do 10 – 20 coconuts. Now we have five people helping us on opening days and will prepare 500 at a time”, says Casey.
Once opened the flesh of the coconut is cut up and placed in Beach Harvest’s six dehydrators for a time frame which is closely guarded by Casey. Unfortunately for the couple the coconut flesh loses around 50 per cent of its weight whilst the chips are being created but Casey says, “We try to look on the bright side… some fruits lose up to 90 per cent of their weight when dehydrated”.
Whilst the major ingredient of coconut is sourced and produced within 100 miles of the farm Casey says, “We’ve had some major decisions to make when sourcing other ingredients. At first we were looking to be organic supporting but with conflicting reports on the authenticity of organic certification overseas we decided to buy Australian ingredients as much as possible”.
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— Paul (@100MileAuthor) September 16, 2017
This has led to buying Australian produced sugar from close to their doorstep and partnering with other great companies such as Broken Nose Vanilla near Innisfail. Disappointingly, even though searching widely Casey is yet to find Australian produced cinnamon, chilli powder or maple syrup. “The maple syrup used in our products is the real deal from Canada, there are Australian versions but when you look closely they contain high fructose corn syrup so we stay clear of them”, says Casey.
Perhaps the largest disappointment would have to be in sourcing Australian cocoa for their products. The cocoa industry in Australia started within 50 kilometres of Beach Harvest’s Julatten property with companies such as Daintree Estates, but whilst production of this ‘fruit of the gods’ is increasing it’s already contracted prior to harvest.
Currently, Casey and the team are developing a savoury flavour using Tasmanian sea salt rather than the Himalayan version already in use as well as a caramel sea salt flavour which will be all Australian.
Food miles and environmental impacts are obviously very important to Casey who says, “On top of our product decisions other environmental related improvements Jesse and I have made include solar powering our production kitchen, but I think where we make the most impact is how we harvest. Global demand for coconut products such as oil has gone quite high which has meant some native rainforests overseas are being cut down to put in plantations. Our view is sustainably harvesting and rotating the areas from which we source means there is very little impact to the environment and leaves the planet better for the next generation”.
With eight children in Casey and Jesse’s care at the moment they not only have a vested interest in the environment but an understanding of what kids like. Casey says, “We realise more and more the importance of having food which is healthy, convenient and accessible. Many kids won’t touch raw coconut but they will eat it in this form”.
“For us that’s a win”.