Super seeds for a superstar

Ben O'SheaThe West Australian

American surfing legend Kelly Slater walks through a verdant plantation in the Ord Valley, impossibly green against a red-rock escarpment and bathed in the warm glow of the Kimberley sun.

As his fingers brush the tops of flowering plants, the 11-times world champion reflects on his childhood and what more than two decades as a professional surfer has taught him about healthy living.

You can watch this idyllic vision play out in an online video promoting the Chia Co. but what it really represents is another step toward fulfilling the grand vision of fourth-generation WA farmer John Foss.

It's a vision that has seen Mr Foss trade grain farming at his family's Bruce Rock property for chia, the seeds of which are considered a so-called superfood and whose origins can be traced back to the Aztecs.

With degrees in agriculture and marketing, Mr Foss won the Nuffield farming scholarship in 2001 and used it to travel the world researching food industry trends.

It was a light-bulb moment for a man frustrated with the limitations of the traditional commodity crop model. "We discovered chia and then spent the next four or five years focusing on the best place to grow it," Mr Foss said.

As it happens, the North West of WA, 15 degrees south of the equator to be precise, is arguably the best place on the planet for growing it and the 44-year-old's company is now the largest producer of the raw seeds in the world, with offices in New York and London.

"We've been building the industry sustainably over a number of years but it's now the biggest food crop by area in the Ord Valley so it's a significant part of the agriculture industry in the Ord," Mr Foss said.

Slater's alignment with Mr Foss' brand, which prides itself on being environmentally friendly, began organically when the surfer posted a photo of chia seeds on social media.

"He was actually surfing in Australia at the time so we got some Chia Pods down to Bells Beach for him to try," Mr Foss said.

"He'd been pursued by some of the world's biggest brands and for him it wasn't so much about remuneration, it was about understanding me and the Chia Co. as a business."

To that end, Mr Foss flew Slater to Kununurra last month where he met local growers and took time out to go barramundi fishing.

"To me, the biggest story I took away from the farm was the passion of the farmers for the seeds," Slater said.

The Chia Co. will release the Slater-endorsed Chia Pod range in Australia next month through Woolworths.

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