An innovative approach to reducing food waste has forged new markets and earned Krista Watkins the national 2018 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award.

Story Amanda Burdon  Photo Jackie Cooper

The little town of Walkamin, in far north Queensland, is abuzz with the news that local agricultural entrepreneur Krista Watkins has been named the national winner of the 2018 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award. 

“We sold out of all the newspapers announcing Krista’s award,” says Di George, owner of the town’s only business, the Walkamin Service Station. “Many people were surprised to learn that a company in our little town is exporting to the world. It’s given everyone heart, following two cyclones and years of drought, when prices have been at an all-time low and our growers have been ploughing their produce into the ground.”

And that’s precisely the kind of waste and heartache that the company Krista co-founded with her husband Rob – Natural Evolution Foods – is working to overcome. They’ve pioneered the processing of green bananas into gluten-free banana flour products, which are rich sources of resistant starch essential for good gut health, and now produce at least 250 million tonnes a year. In October the enterprising food manufacturers also launched a sweet-potato equivalent and continue to investigate the nutritional value of a host of other fruits and vegetables.

Krista estimates that food waste at the farm gate can represent up to 20 percent of gross food production, costing the Australian economy an estimated $20 billion a year. When there’s no market for the produce, it doesn’t meet consumer expectations or unforeseen weather events intervene, millions of tonnes of otherwise healthy food is dumped all around the country.

“Sometimes a fruit or vegetable farmer can see up to 80% of their crop unsold in a week,” Krista says. “So we decided to look at ways to give farmers who have put all this time, money, energy and love into growing these beautiful crops a means of diversifying their income.

“It’s not only giving farmers an alternative industry to the fresh food line; we’re changing the lives of people with food intolerances and special dietary needs, and enabling them to cook and enjoy food with their family.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #122

Outback Magazine: December/January 2019