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Mayi Harvests keeping culture strong through bush food products

Grace Crivellaro -

Built on traditional ideas of how food and medicine are collected, Mayi Harvests is an Indigenous-owned and operated business providing wild harvested bush foods from Western Australia's West Kimberley region.

Mayi Harvests was established in 2006 to supply fruits and seeds, including the Kakadu plum Gabiny. The name Mayi comes from the Djugun Yawuru language of the West Kimberley, meaning bush foods derived from parts of plants including seeds, fruit, nuts, honey and sap.

The business was founded by CEO and Director of Mamanyjun Tree Enterprises Pty Ltd, Aunty Pat Mamanyjun Torres, who specialises in West Kimberley native foods and maintaining ancient cultural practices.

With her mother and grandmother growing up with a vast knowledge around wild bush foods and being named after the bush fruit Mamanyjun herself, Aunty Pat said it was a "natural progression" to find herself in the bush food industry.

Mayi Harvests follows traditional methods of wild harvesting. This involves hand picking produce with the six seasons of the Kimberley in small batches to ensure a sustainable future for their community.

"We only collect certain amounts so that we're not annihilating or wiping out a species. We work with the need ... so that we're not over collecting something from the wild, because the plants have got to be shared with the animals and the insects," Aunty Pat said.

"You've got to make sure when you're collecting that you're also allowing the environment to stay healthy."

Aunty Pat also described the harvesting process as a "family affair", with her extended family and friends helping with hand picking the fruits to maintain ancient cultural practices.

"For us, the bush food is more than just a commodity. It's something that reaches back into ancestral history," she said.

"With it comes sacred rituals and songs and stories. It's very much embedded in who we are as humans."

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A post shared by Wild Harvested Native Foods (@mayiharvestsnativefoods) on Jun 10, 2020 at 3:45pm PDT

With a Bachelor of Indigenous Languages and Linguistics, Aunty Pat is also passionate about the continuation of her family's traditional Djugun and Jabirr-Jabirr languages.

She said using the traditional harvesting methods is also an important way to keep traditional language and culture alive.

"When you go out on Country and you collect, you're teaching your family and the younger ones the names of all the bush fruit, you're teaching them about the medicine, you're teaching them how to use plants for shelter," said Aunty Pat.

"It's important for our wellbeing and cultural and language transmission. Harvesting is a great way of telling the ancient stories when you're on the landâ€"because all of the fruits have got a story."

Australian native produce has been branded as a 'superfood' and is becoming increasingly popular with beauty companies and modern restaurants.

Aunty Pat said native bush food is vital for health and wellbeing, with one of Mayi Harvests' main productsâ€"the Gabiny having the highest vitamin C content of any fruit.

"If you're eating native ingredients, you're getting natural vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in their natural form, instead of man-made [food]," she said.

Aunty Pat said her people traditionally ate the wild foods fresh or dry. But over the past few years, she has tested and developed her own recipes using the traditional bush foods to create delicious jams, chutneys, cookies and natural cordials.

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A post shared by Wild Harvested Native Foods (@mayiharvestsnativefoods) on May 13, 2020 at 5:25pm PDT

When asked about her favourite recipe she has created, Aunty Pat laughed.

"How could I just choose one? They're all my favourite!"

You can find Mayi Harvests products and recipes here.

By Grace Crivellaro

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