Na­ture gives Maslins hope for fu­ture

Great Southern Herald - - News - Nick But­terly

On the end­less hori­zons of WA’s Wheatbelt, An­thony Maslin and wife Rin Nor­ris have found fresh pur­pose and new rea­son to take joy in life.

“Putting pos­i­tive en­ergy back into peo­ple and the planet is some­thing that makes me feel good,” Mr Maslin says.

He and Ms Nor­ris are about to em­bark on the next phase in their lives, one they hope will bring en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits as well as jobs and in­vest­ment to the bush.

Mr Maslin is launch­ing a com­pany on the Aus­tralian Se­cu­ri­ties Ex­change, aim­ing to raise funds to cre­ate a net­work of farms and green­houses to sell high-qual­ity pro­duce to the su­per­mar­kets of Aus­tralia and Asia.

“How food is pro­duced is some­thing that af­fects all peo­ple, ev­ery­where,” he said. “And the im­pact it has on our land and our ecosys­tems is huge.”

As well as cre­at­ing new in­dus­try, the com­pany — Wide Open Agri­cul­ture — has set a goal to re­gen­er­ate a pro­por­tion of the land it con­trols by plant­ing new trees and veg­e­ta­tion.

Mr Maslin found him­self drawn to the project as he strug­gled to come to grips with the loss of his three chil­dren, Mo, Evie and Otis, and their grand­fa­ther Nick Nor­ris, when Malaysia Air­lines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine in 2014.

He is re­luc­tant to dis­cuss the tragedy and is un­der­stand­ably pro­tec­tive of their baby daugh­ter, born in 2016.

“We were in Am­s­ter­dam and I was at the low­est point in my life,” Mr Maslin said.

“I was con­sumed by grief and knew I needed to find mean­ing. So I started on a search to find some rea­son for be­ing.”

He vis­ited an old friend work­ing for Dutch bank Tri­o­dos spe­cial­is­ing in en­vi­ron­men­tally and eth­i­cally sus­tain­able in­vest­ments.

The friend, Hans Schut, in­tro­duced him to Nether­lands-based or­gan­i­sa­tion Com­mon­land, which sup­ports farm­ers to re­store and re­gen­er­ate de­graded farm­land they work.

Among its goals, Com­mon­land seeks to give farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties a new sense of hope and pur­pose.

Mr Maslin said the phi­los­o­phy was a per­fect fit for the Wheatbelt, which is strug­gling with de­pop­u­la­tion, high sui­cide rates and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion.

He is no stranger to cap­i­tal rais­ings or ethics-fo­cused busi­ness projects.

He pre­vi­ously worked as a stock­bro­ker in Perth. For a time he took his fam­ily to the Mal­dives to over­see a sus­tain­able wa­ter bot­tling project in an im­pov­er­ished Is­lamic com­mu­nity.

Wide Open Agri­cul­ture, named in tribute to revered WA band The Trif­fids and their an­them Wide Open Road, hopes to raise $5 mil­lion to in­vest in new sites around the Wheatbelt.

The com­pany, which he founded with man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Ben Cole, has a pi­lot site in op­er­a­tion near Arthur River grow­ing a va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles un­der a mas­sive, mod­ern shade house.

Mr Maslin and Ms Nor­ris be­lieve their chil­dren would sup­port and be ex­tremely proud of what the new com­pany was try­ing to achieve.

“Otis in par­tic­u­lar was a big na­ture lover, but all the kids were strongly con­nected to WA and cared a lot for all peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment,” Mr Maslin said.

“Plus, Nick as a men­tor has left a lot of strate­gies that the com­pany will ben­e­fit from.”

The veg­eta­bles are al­ready sold through­out Perth to a select num­ber of cus­tomers un­der the brand Food for Rea­sons. The com­pany hopes to strike whole­sale and re­tail agree­ments across WA as new grow­ing sites de­velop.

But Mr Maslin said the real ex­cite­ment came with the idea of sell­ing high-qual­ity, clean pro­duce to mar­kets in Asia.

He pointed to the ru­n­away de­mand in China for high-qual­ity baby for­mula from Aus­tralia.

“The prove­nance of food. That is hugely valu­able,” he said.

“All those ba­bies are go­ing to grow up. The next thing is ve­g­ies, ce­re­als and the dif­fer­ent things we will de­liver.”

Mr Maslin said he hoped West Aus­tralians would em­brace the project.

“What we are re­ally try­ing to do is to start a move­ment . . . Try­ing to start a mean­ing­ful food and re­gen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture move­ment,” he said.

“And so we want as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to be par­tic­i­pat­ing in that move­ment. In a per­fect world, we would love to see 2500 West Aus­tralians put in $2000.”

Pic­ture: Danella Be­vis

Rin Nor­ris and An­thony Maslin, pic­tured at Wil­liams. The cou­ple's three chil­dren Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin were killed in the MH17 tragedy. An­thony Maslin is pre­par­ing to float his new com­pany Wide Open Agri­cul­ture.

Evie, Mo and Otis Maslin.

Nick Nor­ris

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