We were first introduced to Luke Harwood and Gabrille Mirkin through our mutual friends, Fred and Emily. We were already familiar with some of their work—in particular, Luke's former project Happy Bones, a coffee shop we like to visit in New York City.
We were excited when the two made the move out to LA from New York a few years ago, settling into Topanga Canyon. And when we started hearing about and seeing their new project, Activist Manuka, we were very impressed. The value, integrity and authenticity with which which they started their company was immediately apparent to us, and the beautiful brand they built to encompass it felt like a perfect fit.
A couple weeks ago, we made the drive up Topanga Canyon to have some coffee and breakfast with Luke, Gabi, and their beautiful boy Cisco! We picked up our friends Julia Somers and [photographer] Justin Chung on the way, and were treated to Gabi's delicious home-made granola, banana bread, and fresh fruit. We kept the coffee flowing, and after everyone had their fill we took in the morning sun and views of the canyon from the back yard.
As usual, Justin took the most amazing photos on film. We asked Gabi to share her granola and banana bread recipes with us, and shot Luke some questions to learn a little more about their story, the story behind Activist, and how they wound up in Topanga Canyon. We hope you enjoy!
Read on for interview and recipes!
Canyon Coffee: You two have covered some ground in your lives so far! From New Zealand to New York to Topanga. What is it that's driven you to make moves like that?
Luke: My wife originally dragged me to New York from New Zealand; but life is awesome in that you can experience so many things and places and one is silly not to, since we only live once. We have always had one leg still firmly attached to New Zealand and I think we will end up full circle back in the homeland one day.
You've also covered some [meta] ground in terms of work and industries! From fashion to coffee to manuka honey. Do you feel like your experiences and what you take from them contribute to what comes next? And how?
Yes, but sometimes you can get too far away from the things that are important to your roots. As a young kid from the age of 6-20 years old I was immersed in surfing, I grew up in a small surfing town on the coast of New Zealand. At the age of 20 I needed new stimulus because surfing was all I knew, my creativity lead me to fashion because I was drawn to the craft and presentation side of fashion.
But in the end, after 12 years, it was not right for me and I returned to my roots which was the catalyst for Activist; and to put natural products into the world with little industrial use and environmental impact. All the creative and business perspectives i have learnt over the last 20 year are most valuable.
What drew you to Topanga Canyon? What do you love about it?
It is close to the coast and nature. It’s really beautiful to be on the coast in California and part of the amazing wide open spaces and vistas. I love that I can choose to be isolated for a good period of time, yet so close to the city for stimulus if needed.
Do you have any morning rituals?
Yes, I usually surf most mornings; I’ll jump into the sea somewhere up the coast. Otherwise half an hour of peace with a coffee, looking out over the native trees and bird life nestled into the Santa Monica Mountains. I enjoy watching the way the sun comes up as it begins to rotate around the landscape and tree line, I love the opening and closing parts of the day.
How did Activist come about? Was there a connection or inspiration point dating back to your NZ days?
My passions are deeply rooted in surfing, board building, horticulture and environmental landscaping in a very primal way. A few years ago while on our piece of land back in New Zealand, the bees came to me as a catalyst and formed the epicentre that brought all my passions together into a complete integrated oasis, which was based around a love for Mother Nature and putting natural products into the world. I also have a huge passion for New Zealand and making sure New Zealand resources are presented well on a global stage, with essence and a true story rather than a traded and dumped commodity for financial value only.
What do you hope to share with the world through Activist?
Genuineness, essence, and extremely beautiful unadulterated products that do enrich people’s lives. At a certain point we’d love to give all our earnings away. In the meantime we are still a very small company and as a family and business we always seem to have bills to pay and sometimes I don’t even think donating funds is the best way to help solve problems. I realize we can all be much more impactful through genuine relationships, intimacy and the offering of help and hands. So I feel what we can do with Activist is use it as a clean vehicle, one of them is to inspire children at a school level through art and outdoor activity. We are working with a special school in New Zealand at present. We see this as helping create a ripple effect, because I believe children learning to have a respect and interest in Mother Nature at a young age is a beautiful thing.
Recipe: ACTIVIST Mānuka Honey Coconut Banana Bread
3/4 cup coconut flour
1 or 2 tablespoons of @activistmanuka (depending on your sweet tooth)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
1/4 cup almond butter
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon pink salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
• In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. To the mashed banana, add in the coconut flour, eggs, @activistmanuka, almond butter, hemp seeds, cinnamon, baking soda + powder, salt, vanilla and half the almonds. Use a whisk to stir the batter well; I like to leave some chunks of banana in the batter.
• Pour the batter into the lined loaf pan and sprinkle the other half of the almonds on top. Bake until the center of the loaf has risen and started to crack, feeling firm to the touch, about 45 to 55 minutes. A knife should come out clean if inserted into the centre of the loaf. Cool completely before slicing and serving.
• Because this loaf is moist, be sure to store it in an airtight container in the fridge or pantry. It should last at least five days when stored in the fridge, though you might eat it all before then!
Recipe: ACTIVIST Mānuka Honey and Cacao Granola
3 cups coconut flakes
1 cup hazelnuts, chopped
1 cup almonds, chopped
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/2 tsp. pink salt
1/2 cup Activist Mānuka Honey
2/3 cup coconut oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup raw cacao powder
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Combine oats, coconut flakes, chopped nuts, and chia seeds in a large bowl.
• Over low heat, melt the coconut oil and then add the manuka honey, vanilla, salt, and cacao powder.
• Pour liquid ingredients over dry and mix well to combine.
• Spread mixture out on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir well. Bake for another 10 minutes until toasted, paying careful attention not to burn it. The dark color of the granola can make it tricky to tell if it’s cooked or not. Enjoy!