How To See The Nasties On Your Fresh Food

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In this episode of Beyond the Green Line, Shonelle Gleeson-Willey talks with Danielle Morton, a banking sector professional turned entrepreneur and founder of Zondii – a venture that’s using the capabilities of “blue sky” (spectroscopy) technology to identify residual herbicides and pesticides in food and fiber.

Danielle is dedicated to making more knowledge available to the public about the food we eat and the fiber we wear by implementing simple ways for producers to ensure quality – including using the selfie camera of a smartphone to guarantee their final products are safe from harmful pesticides, additives, and chemicals.

Danielle teaches us about “blue sky” technology, which used to just be used in realms like art restoration, but that can now help families that have allergies and sensitivities, as well as anyone who wants to know more about what’s in the food they purchase and clothing they buy.

Danielle’s personal experience watching how healthy, whole foods helped her children recover from gut and sleep issues led her to research the specifics of food producers’ certification processes. She eventually teamed up with a group of spectrometry scientists and spear-headed implementing it in the food and clothing industries. She now works with the creators of the technology and producers in the food industry in researching simple ways to authenticate the cleanest and healthiest food options, like ensuring a food is indeed organic.

Shonelle and Danielle discuss the process of creating a start-up company, connecting with researchers and scientists, and building project teams.

Finally, they look ahead to the impact Zondii will have when consumers’ have the ability to scan produce in the store and truly choose the best product. This includes Organic and Regenerative Agriculture produce, which often contain little to no pesticides.

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Shonelle Gleeson-Willey_Daniele_3.16.22-EDIT_01

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 0:00
In this episode of beyond the green line, we’re talking to Daniel Martin, a banking sector professional turned entrepreneur, who is disrupting the organic food industry, and leveling up the amount of knowledge available to us all about the food we eat, and the fiber we wear. This conversation is about importing innovative blue-sky technology that is helping families with allergies and sensitivities, as well as those of us who want more visibility around our food and fiber, produce and a factual way to know how much residual herbicide and pesticide is lingering on the fresh food we buy.

Intro 0:39
Hi, and welcome. Buckle up for a new episode of beyond the green line, the only podcast hooking you up for a virtual coffee date with some of the leading changemakers industry experts and everyday activists in environmental and agricultural sciences. So pop in your headphones, go for a walk and get ready for inspiration, ideas, insights and real life stories beyond the green line we balance along.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 1:13
Hello, and welcome to this episode of beyond the green line. I’m your host Shonelle Gleeson-Willey. Our guest today is Daniel Morton founder of Zondii, a cutting edge venture delving into the science of like spectrometry and the power of the smartphone to develop a program capable of identifying residual herbicide and pesticide on the fruit and veg we buy. Hi, Danielle. Hi, Janelle. Thanks for being with us today and joining our podcast. So to start off with Zondii is a startup driven by an issue that is very close to home for you. Can you talk about what made you decide to look outside the box for a solution to your family’s health problems?

Danielle Morton 1:55
Yeah, sure. Food became really central for me, healing my children’s got health issues, and Whole Foods improve their sleep, growth, behavior and learning in a way that couldn’t be ignored. And so I went searching for the healthiest food and was asked by producers to certify that their produce was healthier and grown in a way that was going to help people with their health goals. And so, to achieve this, I found technology that’s patented globally, and uses multispectral imaging and artificial intelligence to detect differences in the food that we can’t see with a normal photographic image.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 2:36
So the technology that you’re using was developed overseas, initially, can you talk me through why was first developed? And what was its initial intended application?

Danielle Morton 2:47
Yeah, so the technology was developed in a research organization similar to the CSIRO, but in Germany, and the researchers are allowed to do passion projects. So they’re allowed to use their knowledge and industry research to create technology that can be used in the real world. And I was able to obtain the global license for that in food and fiber. And now we actually work very closely together, the creators of the technology, and the scientists are now part of the implementation of that technology within the producer. Industry.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 3:26
Great. And how did you get to the point where you identified that it had a wider commercial application,

Danielle Morton 3:35
I think I was looking for something that would enable me to reach the goal of what the producers needed, which was that validation and authentication of their food, without needing a huge army of people on the ground, going to farms and validating and authenticating or creating a new certification that has its own challenges. And so in terms of putting that cheque in the hands of the consumer, and actually not relying on any marketing or mislabelling that could occur. It literally is scanning the skin of an apple and telling you whether that Apple is organic or not. And so it really is a game changing in the industry in the industry.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 4:14
Yeah, and that is just phenomenal science. You know, the technology behind this blows my mind basically 10 years ago, this would have been unheard of, you know, blue sky stuff, but now you’re bringing it to the consumer to us. Can you describe how it all works and what your company is developing?

Danielle Morton 4:36
Yeah. So spectral or spectroscopy has been around for quite a number of years, and it’s been in the space exploration or art restoration area. It’s only in the last five to 10 years that it’s starting to make a big impact into the food industry and generally relies on really expensive hyperspectral cameras, so it’s starting to make its way into the food supply chain. So if you’re in a factory You’ve got avocados going through on a conveyor belt, it’s coming into play to check which ones are bruised, which ones are not, what are their ripeness level. And then the team that I work with, we’re able to scale that down and actually invert the spectroscopy technology, and start using the selfie camera on the smartphone to create a smaller version that has the ability to detect the differences between two objects that, you know, visually, we can’t necessarily see with the human eye.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 5:34
And you’re currently going through some, I guess, research to make sure that you can check that this is actually a very verifying that this technology is, is doing what you think is going to do. Now, this is part of, I guess, your startup, which is called Zondii. And you have a corporate career background that must have helped you with many aspects of your business during the startup, can you walk me through the growth and how hard you found it to step out of that profession and into the field of science and technology?

Danielle Morton 6:10
Yes, certainly, it’s been in the corporate career has given me a lot of skills that have been helpful in the startup space. So my project management has helped me understand what tasks need to be done, where the gaps are, and it also has helped me be comfortable bringing a team of people together, so I don’t necessarily have to be the expert in every area of my business. So that’s been really helpful to go away from a set daily job, you know, with its its benefits, in terms of income, has been a challenge. But I think because I’m so passionate about it, and I can see the future of this technology and its potential, and also that I will be giving my kids a more balanced us or access to me. Because when you’re in the startup, you can be a bit more flexible with your hours, it’s definitely worth the extra time that I’m putting in into the startup space.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 7:06
And this this leap that you made, from your your corporate career in project management, into science and technology, obviously, you must have learned an awful lot to make when you made that jump and in the years since. So what would you say to someone who has an idea, but is maybe a bit unsure about making that initial jump because they don’t actually have the background in that field. Or they don’t have, you know, haven’t gone to university in that field or done any work in that field,

Danielle Morton 7:40
I would highly encourage them, because I think what they don’t realize is there is a ton of researchers and scientists out there who are creating this amazing technology, but don’t necessarily want to go out and create a startup or don’t have the skill sets to do the startup. So a lot of the big startups that people know about have come from technology that already exists, and it’s just presented or used in a different way. So I’d highly encourage people that if they’ve got a problem, they know that there’s potentially as technology out there that could solve it to go and partner with people out there. Because the more people in your startup, the quicker you’ll get traction and leverage to go from, you know, initial investment all the way through to commercialization.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 8:25
With that, Zondii is definitely well and truly up and running. Now. It’s a very exciting business, I must say, What’s the big picture for the impact that Zondii will have you over the next sort of five to 10 years.

Danielle Morton 8:39
So our big picture goal is to have this in the hands of consumers, I want mums to be able to walk into the store and actually scan a bunch of apples and pick the ones that are the healthiest for their kids, without them having to be wrapped in plastic. You know, at the moment, if you want to buy organic produce, it’s completely wrapped in plastic to protect the, I guess the sale of that high end produce. So that’s our big picture goal. What’s actually happened in the early stages that we’re doing right now is the fact that there is a lot of food fraud, there’s about $3 billion industry in Australia alone. And we’re actually being taken on board by industry like Cobram estate and the manuka honey industry and the tea tree oil to actually validate food fraud and authenticate produce. And so that’s taking up our time at the moment, but our big scale, or our big picture is to try and get it into the hands of consumers so that they can choose the healthiest produce for their kids.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 9:37
This leads me into my next question, then, the next step for Zondii, I believe is in the regenerative ag space. And this is something that you’ve been looking into recently. Can you tell me more about what that looks like?

Danielle Morton 9:50
Yeah, that’s quite exciting. So that was where we started and wanted to be able to detect regenerative agriculture produce, we’re a step behind that with doing organic first. And then we’ve been asked to come in and be involved in the certification of regenerative agriculture produce. And so that means that you have soil that is, I guess, looked after there’s better microbes, there’s better minerals, there’s a whole lot of, I guess, nutrients within the soil. And the big epiphany moment for me was the fact that if I actually had soil that was grown from a regenerative farm, and it grew an apple or an orange, that apple or orange would actually have all the vitamins, minerals and supplements that I currently have to give my children separately. And so we want to be helping out with that authentication of that regenerative agriculture produce, and showing the nutrient density of food to actually show people that it’s healthier for you, depending on how it has been grown all the way from the soil, right the way through to the actual produce.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 10:57
That’s a really interesting space. And I guess regenerative AG has been around for quite some time. But in the popular vernacular, it’s, it’s still quite new. What do you see as the benefits of regenerative ag over organic,

Danielle Morton 11:12
so regenerative ag pretty much moves away from any of that. So it doesn’t even use organic pesticides. And I can speak specifically for our family and with kids like cows with gut health issues. And who are potentially on the spectrum, we have little children who are really sensitive to any environmental impact. And so even organic pesticides for our kids can actually be detrimental to their behaviour, their learning, and their growth. And so we tend to lean towards pesticide-free produce. And so regenerative agriculture is that next level up where it’s actually grown, the microbes are paid attention to in the soil, and it goes through the entire lifecycle. And the healthier the plant is you actually don’t need to use pesticides, because the pests actually come in and attack unhealthy plants. And so if you have healthy plants, the pesticide need is removed. And you also have produce that comes out the other side without all the nutrients that it needs to actually nourish a person.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 12:17
So this leads me to my next question that you are an incredibly strong person who is obviously not afraid of change. To the beginning of this journey that you’ve been on, you moved from the city, to a rural property in the Northern Tablelands, and lived in two tiny homes with your children, and did a fair amount of homeschooling, as well as making sure that you, you know, had your own gardens and did have your own very healthy food. So this seems like a really idyllic existence, that’s kind of slow and back to nature. Was it like that for you?
Speaker 3
I think that’s a great description, that that was what we were aiming for. So we were trying to give our kids a slow lifestyle, and it really did help them, bringing them back to nature and having less of the societal influences of racing off to all different activities in the afternoon, and lots of functions on the weekends. So we definitely got the slower lifestyle in that regard. By moving out of the city. It was not slow and relaxed. It was quite chaotic at times with the homeschooling and the working from home and running a business and trying to grow vegetables against all of the environmental challenges that you face. So I think it was quite busy and chaotic. But there were so many moments where we would just sit down in a field of you know, native wildflowers or walk past on our property. We I call them butterfly trees where you would walk past and 100 white butterflies would just suddenly, you know, bloom into the air. So there were many, many moments like that, that help our kids develop. But certainly not as, ideally can slow as I thought it would be when I left the city.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 14:05
That’s fantastic. And you went through COVID Throughout this as well, I guess, as a lot of the people like myself who live in regional Australia or in rural areas. We did actually feel very fortunate throughout COVID that whilst we did experience a couple of lockdowns, I guess you’re the same as us in that you had this wonderful place to go back to where you really didn’t feel like you were in lockdown. Was that true for you guys?

Danielle Morton 14:33
Absolutely. I mean, we had people who couldn’t believe that we were moving somewhere where the toilet was 200 meters away when we first arrived and they thought we were crazy living in tiny houses. And then all of a sudden lockdown occurred and people were locked in apartments and townhouses in Sydney and they were very jealous about 200-meter walk through the bush to the toilet.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 14:54
You could collect leaves on the way so you didn’t even need toilet paper.

Danielle Morton 15:04
It was definitely a fantastic experience. And we certainly didn’t ever feel like it was a challenge in the lockdown.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 15:10
Yeah. Great. So are there any final words you’d like to say about where Zondii is heading and I guess some of the exciting things that are coming up for your business?

Danielle Morton 15:21
Yes. So we’ve got a lot of exciting projects underway. We’re doing everything from grass for horse feed, all the way through to olive oil, and manuka honey and tea tree, and organic apples. So there’s a lot of variety going on, which is keeping us busy, it’s exciting. I’d like to eventually to be able to sit on one of these podcasts and say, “Everyone, go on to the app store and download this app and and and check it out and go and test your fruit, fruit and vegetable in the shops”. And so I think that’s my aim, eventually, is to have a podcast where I can tell everyone to go and download the app.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 15:59
Yeah, hopefully, we’ll be able to get you back on it sometime in the near future. And that will be the case.

Danielle Morton 16:05
Coming soon. Watch this space.

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey 16:09
Oh, thank you so much for being my guest today. Danielle, you are a brave and strong woman who isn’t shy of a change of scenery, a change of job, career, and industry. So pretty much change in general. Thank you so much for coming on today and telling us all about the adventure that you’ve been on. Join us for our next episode for more inspirational stories, and actionable tips on unleashing the eco-warrior inside you. Until next time. Thanks for listening. Please subscribe to our podcast and head over to our socials to explore a little more about us. This has been Shonelle Gleeson-Willey for the Beyond The Green Line Podcast.

Thanks for listening to this episode of beyond the green line brought to you by Moss Environmental. Subscribe to our podcast for your weekly invitation to join the conversation. Until next time, keep thinking green

About The Host

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey

Shonelle Gleeson-Willey is the highly credentialed Director of Moss Environmental. With over fifteen years’ experience working in the environmental sector as a Contaminated Lands Consultant and Environmental Manager on medium to large construction projects across Australia, Shonelle specialises in climate change risk assessments, contaminated land management, construction environmental management and sustainability.

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