From Farm To Face -Interview with The Paperbark Co.
Meet Peta and John Day, a husband and wife team who grow our wonderful Honey Myrtle essential oil.Their company The Paperbark Co. is based in Harvey, WA where their farm produces a diverse array of Australian native trees and plants, to create rare essential oils and hydrosols. Their honey myrtle is out of this world. Bursting with bright citrus notes and a warm undertone of honey and amber, it is beautifully uplifting. Plus, with its high levels of citral, it has been shown to be anti-microbial. Perfect for blemish-prone and irritated skin.We hope you’ll love reading all about their story, and what it takes to produce this exquisite botanical ingredient that ends up in your hands, and on your skin… enjoy.
How long have you been growing Honey Myrtle?
The Paperbark Co. has been growing Honey Myrtle as a crop since the early 2000’s.This shrub was growing naturally around the lakes on our property and after we absentmindedly crushed its leaves, it revealed a burst of citral aroma. After identifying the shrub as Melaleuca teretifolia, locally referred to as Marsh Honey Myrtle or Banbar, we decided to establish a plantation of shrubs from which we distill the Honey Myrtle Oil.
Where and when did it all begin for you?
Our journey started 30 years ago when travelling around Australia on a working holiday.It was during this time that we discovered the benefits of Tea Tree Oil, it being the only bottle in our very medicine cupboard. Travelling and camping across Australia gave us a lifelong love of the Australian bush and a desire to live and work in the country. But with John being an Engineer and Peta an Occupational Therapist, work was easier to obtain in the city and we returned to work in Perth.For years we talked about living in the country, and in 1997 a significant milestone occurred when we purchased 64 hectares in Harvey, approximately 140km south of Perth, where we planted approximately 5 hectares of tea trees. John designed the distillation plant, and in 1998 we produced our first harvest of Tea Tree Oil, which we continue to market under The Paperbark Co. label today.Since our initial planting of tea trees and largely as a result of the downturn in farm gate prices of this oil, we started to look at other oil producing Australian plants and trees. We discovered a vast untapped biodiversity of plants in Western Australia.
A second significant milestone occurred when we read an article in the April, 2000 Newsletter of the Land for Wildlife (Schemei) by Chris Robinson, a Botanist with the Department of Agriculture in Albany, Western Australia. The article was entitled “Agonis Oil and the Curse of Potential!”. We contacted Chris who was very excited about a particularly aromatic shrub growing in the region – an unidentified species of Agonis.It was commonly known as Coarse Tea Tree or Coarse Agonis, and Chris had been working with the Great Southern Development Commission, looking at opportunities to grow and harvest the Agonis in commercial quantities.Interest was being shown by end user groups but there was not enough oil available to experiment with, and no-one had been prepared to take the risk of a new farming venture without guaranteed markets for the end product. Hence the name of the paper, “Agonis Oil and the curse of Potential”.In 2001, The Paperbark Co. planted the first trial planting of 5,000 Agonis seedlings, and in response to market interest has since been able to make significant increases to its Agonis plantation.In 2002, The Paperbark Co. gave Agonis fragrans its common name of Fragonia to reflect the fragrant nature of both the foliage and the extracted oil.The name Fragonia has been trademarked by The Paperbark Co., to ensure that all oil sold under this name conforms with the exacting constituents specification for the particular chemotype of Agonis fragrans selected and grown by The Paperbark Co.In the early 2000’s, we planted several other Australian oil producing shrubs, including Rosalina and Lemon Tea Tree, and also commenced the contract distillation of Lavender Oil, allowing us to market a range of products under The Paperbark Co. label. Whilst most of these shrubs were widely known to the market, it was around this time that we discovered Melaleuca teretifolia for Honey Myrtle Oil.
As we began to settle into an annual harvesting routine, we realised that we had a distillation plant that was only being utilized for around 4 or 5 weeks of the year during the leaf oil harvest. At about this time we also became aware that the market was showing some interest in steam distilled Australian Sandalwood Oil, as all oil being produced at this time was obtained via a solvent extraction process.John commenced trialling the steam distillation of Australian Sandalwood Oil and The Paperbark Co. entered the exciting but extremely challenging Sandalwood Oil market soon after. The Paperbark Co. now produces an Australian Sandalwood Oil unique to the market, the only one with an alpha santalol content of greater than 25%.
Did you always grow “organically” since you began, or if not, what made you change your thinking?
Actually, none of our products are certified as organic.The Paperbark Co. adopts what we refer to as sustainable farming practices, with little or no pesticide spraying (occasional spot spraying only), minimal herbicide spraying, and use of fertilisers that are mostly approved for organic certification. Farming in this way, and in fact living in this way in general, has always been important to us.However, the process to obtain organic certification is a particularly arduous and expensive one, and we have made the business decision not to go down this path.
How many days/weeks/years does it take to get your crop from planting to final product?
It takes approximately 2 years after planting the seedlings for them to grow to a size suitable for a light harvest. By the third year, the shrubs are basically at full size and we would undertake a full harvest annually from this point onward.We harvest and distill all of our leaf oils around November each year.
Honey Myrtle Flowers
How big a part of your everyday life is buying organic?
Pretty big! Our family has always been interested in living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. We have raised our kids this way. We all use minimal cleaning products in our households, natural ones where possible. We all use natural washes and moisturises, and avoid using chemicals. We all eat well, with a focus on using raw ingredients and avoiding processed foods.
What else do you grow/sell?
The Paperbark Co. now grows and distils four Australian essential oils – Fragonia, Honey Myrtle, Rosalina and Tea Tree.
We also distill a large quantity of West Australian Sandalwood to produce a High Grade Australian Sandalwood Oil (alpha santalol content of 25% or greater). This wood is purchased from an Aboriginal group licensed to harvest sandalwood from arguably the best sandalwood areas in West Australia.
We produce and sell hydrosols from the distillations of all our oils, which are sold in small to bulk quantities. Other products include Kunzea oil, which is purchased from a distiller in Tasmania, as well as Sandalwood Powder and Sandalwood Chip.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Without question the biggest challenge our business has faced has been in relation to Sandalwood, that being the surety and continuity of supply, and price of raw materials. Raw materials for this industry (sandalwood) are exclusively supplied and/or controlled through government agencies. With the exception of two brief contracts with the government department responsible for the sale of Crown Land sandalwood, our company has never had an ongoing supply contract for sandalwood.This lack of continuity of supply has meant we’ve had to operate month to month and we haven’t been able to grow our business in the manner which would have been possible had the situation been different. Without a guaranteed supply of wood, we have not been able to develop the same kind of customer base as we may have otherwise, because we have never been able to guarantee oil in stock.We are proud that we have been able to develop a loyal customer base and run a successful sandalwood oil business despite this.Another major challenge has been the bushfires which went through our property in January 2016, causing a huge amount of damage to our plantation. Over 70kms of burnt irrigation tapes needed to be replaced.. Except for Fragonia, the plantation is regenerating well.To address the lack of regeneration of Fragonia we have moved quickly to collect seed from surviving Fragonia plants and will have 80,000 seedlings ready for planting out in September, 2017. These will be ready for a light harvest in 2018.
John Day – The Paperbark Co. Farm after the fires
Have you noticed a big change (for the good or bad) in your industry since you started?
The trade in illegally harvested sandalwood, and in particular Australian Sandalwood, has always been a very significant issue. For a long time this was virtually ignored by the appropriate authorities. Fortunately things have now changed, although with only relatively minor infringements now occurring.
If you could start all over again somewhere else, where would it be and why?
We wouldn’t change a thing!Whilst we’ve certainly faced challenges along the way, it has been an exciting and engaging journey.We love this industry and in particular the variety it brings in terms of our customer base. We sell products to a broad range of clientele ranging from practitioners who drop by for a chat and to collect a small 25ml bottle of one of our oils, to large scale manufacturers and distributors across quite a number of different countries.
The Paperbark Co. Farm
If you could inspire others to make one small change for their health and the environment, what would it be?
Be aware. Know what you are putting into and onto your body (food, products etc.) and the effects they are having. Think about the products you are using around the house. What impact are they having to your health and the environment? Ignorance is not bliss!
Name 3 people, dead or alive, you’d love to have dinner with and why.
I could probably provide a list of inspiring names here. But the truth is, if this really was an option for me, I’d have dinner with the people who I’ve lost over the years…parents….relatives…friends taken too early.
The Paperbark Co.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us John and Peta, and for producing such wonderful, interesting native botanical ingredients.If you would like to experience Honey Myrtle for yourself, it is hand blended into our: