Indigenous grower Dominic Smith plans to triple his native food production to meet demand. (ABC: Carl Saville)
Farmers are unable to keep up with the market demand for Indigenous foods as consumer and manufacturer interest in the nutrient-rich bush foods ramps up.
- One native food grower is planning to triple his produce in order to keep up with demand
- An Indigenous food chef is also struggling to grow his business due to a lack of native produce
- The Outback Spirit Foundation describes Australia’s native bush foods as superfoods due to their high nutritional value
Dominic Smith has planted two hectares of native food on his property at Monash in South Australia’s Riverland and planned to triple that in the next few months to meet the growing demand for Indigenous food.
His seven-hectare farm, Pundi Produce, is home to warrigal, a type of native spinach, as well as river mint, wattle seed and saltbush.
As market interest increased, Mr Smith rapidly expanded his produce.
“Gotta get different varieties as well, so looking at desert lime and quandongs.
“So that’s the next part and also three acres of bush tomatoes — as much as I can grow,” Mr Smith said.
Dominic Smith, one of the few farmers in Australia growing native foods, says he’s struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for his produce. (Supplied: Outback Spirit Foundation)
Andrew Fielke, a consulting chef from Adelaide and whose business is solely based on Indigenous food, has been struggling to expand his business due to a lack of available native produce.
Consulting chef Andrew Fielke says there’s only a handful of native foods that are available on a commercial scale. (ABC: Carl Saville)
“There’s not enough cultivation,” Mr Fielke said.
“Right now my business growth is severely limited by reliable raw product supply … a big majority of my lines I’m struggling now to get.
“Demand is soaring, there’s not yet enough investment into the agricultural side.
“There’s just no doubt the way forward is to engage with Indigenous groups to get them planting and growing this for the future.”
The Outback Spirit Foundation has worked with farmers across Australia to supply big supermarket chains, like Coles, with bush foods.
Foundation director Chris Mara said the decade-old foundation had also recognised the market gap.
“For certain things like wattle seed, Kakadu plum and bush tomatoes, you can’t get enough of these ingredients, so demand outstrips supply,” Mr Mara said.
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The next superfoods?
Mr Mara believed Australia’s native products really were superfoods.
“Kakadu plum for example, has about 20 times the vitamin C per 100 grams than an orange and antioxidant value about five times that of a blueberry,” Mr Mara said.
Kakadu plum is a native fruit that grows almost exclusively on Aboriginal land in the Top End. (Supplied: Indigenous Land Corporation)
“Wattle seed is very high in protein and can be used in everything from dairy to breadmaking.
“Those kind of things attract large manufacturers because of those nutritional values.”
Mr Fielke would like native foods to fill the space of Australia’s cuisine.
He said native foods could offer consumers a raft of benefits that non-Indigenous foods did not meet.
“What’s Australian cuisine? Is it meat pies and barbeques and that’s it?” he said.
“You’re talking about culturally appropriate foods to Australia.”
Supporting Aboriginal communities
Dominic Smith says he is rapidly expanding his business to catch up with the demand for native foods. (ABC Riverland: Anita Butcher)
The Outback Spirit Foundation has predicted an expansion of the industry.
“The interest continues to grow, not just from restaurants, but also from major manufacturers of food.
“It’s got away from the craft supply chain to the more commercial supply chain, so that tells you demand is growing,” Mr Mara said.
Grower Dominic Smith has one part-time employee but he would like to see the industry grow to a market which could sustain several full-time employees.
“More job opportunities for Indigenous people … it’s a great source of income for local communities,” he said.
Mr Smith said the culturally appropriate work was well suited to Indigenous youth.
“I’m at peace when I’m working outdoors, I love it.”
Dominic Smith believes working with bush food would be influential for Indigenous youth and give them a sense of pride in their culture. (ABC Riverland: Anita Butcher)
And although it could be a slow burn, Mr Smith believed the drought tolerant and fertiliser, chemical and pesticide-free crops were a safe bet for any farmer.
“Our people have used it [bush food] for thousands and thousands of years … and that’s been through big droughts.”