Pam Gunnell and Ken Dyer have recently received NASAA Certification for their four hectare property at Clarendon, where they grow Organic bush foods and other produce. Neighbours Mike and Karen Brandwood also grow bushfoods on an organic system and on a similar sized property across the road. All four were initiators of Southern Vales Bush Foods Inc. and are committee members.
Ken and Pam have only been on their property for four years and Mike and Karen for five and a half years. Ken says of their group “we are all new to this business and we are all learning.” Southern Vales Foods has been formed to promote and encourage bushfoods and to encourage that learning. The group is also incorporated as an industry-based Landcare group. Pam told Acres “this gives us a different focus to most Landcare groups. We haven’t yet developed any of the usual planting projects that you find Landcare groups involved with, although we intend to have some, nut we focus on education.”
“We have monthly meetings in which we have had specialist speakers and have visited well known organic growers such as apple grower Brian Mason in the Adelaide Hills, or we arrange walks in remnant vegetation to study bush foods in their natural environment. We have also had tours through our properties by other Landcare groups.”
Ken described a project which they hope will develop into the first revegetation exercise for the group “we have about one third of a hectare adjacent to the Fleurieu and McLaren Vale Business Centre where we will plant bush foods.”
“This will be our first demonstration site, using local South Australian species. We hope to later extend the area along the Pedlar Creek.”
Ken claimed that between the the members of they had planted all the species recommended by the Australian Native Bushfood Industry Council (ANBIC) ) plus quite a few others. He said “most of us have some specialisation, one of our growers is very good at bush tomato (Solanum centrale), Mike and Karen have done well with lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) and native pepper (Tasmania lanceolata) and some native raspberry (Rubus meulleri). Pam and I have specialised into Acacia species, especially Acacia retinoides as it grows very well here.”
“We also have Midyim berries (Austromyrtus dulcis), Macadamias and a range of other crops such as Warragul greens (Tetragonia tetragonoides) and sea parsley (Apium prostratum) and we all have muntries (Kunzea pomifera).”
Mike says “muntries come from the alkaline sands near the coast but they seem to adapt quite well to the heavier clays in the hills.”
“The main problem we have is the weeds, especially salvation jane and blackberries,. Both should be less of a problem when the trees get up.”
Mike and Karen have some steeper slopes, and duffer wind damage to young plants. Most are guarded (for wind and rabbit protection) and some are staked and shelterbelts are starting to get to a useful height. The pepper, being a temperate rainforest plant was burnt on some of the hotter days in summer but is doing better now that they are more established. Weeds are controlled by tractor mowing, the walk-behind slasher or brushcutter, depending on degree of slope. Mike says “for mechanical harvesting on a larger scale property you would want to be on flatter land.”
The group has over thirty properties represented amongst the members. While it was started as a local support group membership is starting to spread out, with members all over the Fleurieu peninsula. Ken told Acres “this leaves us with a bit of a dilemma about whether to stay as a small geographically based group or to encourage state-wide.”
“Many members are value adding, such as Margaret Walker at McLaren Flat who trades as Lacewood Jam. She makes jams, chutneys and other produce.””
“Jim Talladira runs a distribution and manufacturing business called Walkabout Foods, which makes a range of bushfood products including some particularly fine biscuits. He also cooks at the Aboriginal Centre, Tandanya, in Adelaide and teaches at Regency Park School of Catering.”
Most of the group has developed a polyculture of native species. Pam said “we first planted a wide selection of species to see what would grow. We have concentrated on A retinoides which grows very well on the lower slopes. We are still working out the best sites for different species but our current planting are grouped a little more, usually about thirty plants from one species. I grow the Warrugal mainly in the garden, where I also raise other organic vegetables.”
Mike has been very effective at sourcing large quantities of mulch from local tree pruning and so both properties have used this product. Mike also uses a commercial jute mulch mat at around 25 cents each, but Pam has concentrated on using old underfelt cut into strips, for the immediate area around the plants. Many plants are also protected with small poly covers.
Pam grows Certified greens for a lettuce mix, tomatoes, garlic, olives and some summer fruit including mulberries and blackberries. Some is sold to organic retailers but most goes to local restaurants. The Southern Vales has long been respected for its wines and as tourism based around the vines expands it has attracted some excellent restaurants and is gaining reputation as a dining area.
Pam told us that “the acacias can be harvested after several years, though the yield is small in early years, some is sold as seed and some milled. We are still sorting out how to clean it and there is a need for small scale threshing and winnowing machines.”
Acres asked the group about the organisation and future of the bush food industry.
Ken replied "there are some inevitable tensions between what you might call the top and bottom ends of the industry - their interests are bound to be a bit different. Some specific problems arose after ANBIC, with support from RIRDC, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, organised an industry conference in May 1996 which seemed to have very strong representation from top chefs, the commercial organisations in the industry, lawyers and the like and rather little from the growers and growers' organisations. Hence it wasn't surprising that the latter set up what many saw as a rival organisation to ANBIC. But we're trying to overcome these suspicions now and bring the two fledgling bushfood organisations together. With RIRDC's help we've set up a Working Party to sort out these problems and we'll overcome these little local difficulties in the next month or two"
“There are some very large operations in the eastern states - I have heard of 600 hectares of lemon myrtle, Vic Chericoff of Bush Tucker Supply Australia calls it myrtle madness. There are also large macadamia orchards which are just broad acre plantations of one species.”
“Part of the reason we are in the industry is that it seems to be ecologically appropriate and we are looking for ways to grow that are compatible with these ideas.”
Mike offered his experience “when we are pushing our lemon myrtle people often tell us they would rather buy locally. Although price may influence this decision, we can easily better the quality of produce which has travelled long distances. Large growers in Queensland may have economy of scale but we care for our produce and deliver it fresh to restaurants which value quality.”
“Restaurateurs like to tell their customers that they are using local produce and we avoid the price hike from dealing with several middlemen.”
“Organic growing does not seem to be a major influence with most restaurants, but we will still grow this way as it seems to us to be the right thing to do, in fact we are members of the BD group and we will use 500 for the first time this year.”
Pam advises “we even have one grower who uses hydroponic methods to grow bush tomato and it seems to work quite well.”
Most of the plants Mike and Karen have started with come from Andrew Beale at the Australian Native Produce Industry nursery at Paringa. They have been selected for oil or food uses and Mike and Karen have chosen to go with the fresh food flavours. Mike told us “we have trials here with aniseed myrtle (Backhousia anisata), riberry (Syzygium leuhmanii), lemon aspen (Acronychia oblongfolia), Quandong (Santalum acuminatum) Davidson plum (Davidsonia pruriens) and Illawara plum (Podocarpus elatus) and quite a few others to see how they will go. Even though the Davidson plum is tropical it seems to get on quite well here.”
All four growers agreed that the main problem for the group is the small volumes volumes of produce they have in these early years.
Mike said “local restaurants like us because we can get stuff to them the day after they order, but if they can’t get what they want they may go off the idea.”
Ken suggests “working together helps because while we only have small quantities we can help each other out with supplies.”