Nature gives Maslins hope for future
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.”
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.