Native grains and grasses, championed by a passionate group of Indigenous leaders and university researchers, could hold the key to a whole new industry.
- Indigenous leaders and the University of Sydney are working to develop a market for native grains
- The group says it will keep their culture alive and generate employment
- These grains and grasses have been part of Aboriginal culture for more than 100,000 years
They are a food source that is been used by Indigenous Australians for thousands of years and are now on the cusp of becoming a commercial product, like wheat or oats.
“To build a new grain species into a food, [it] needs to happen from paddock to plate,” University of Sydney researcher Angela Pattison said.
“We can’t just grow them, we have to develop a market at the same time.
Ready to trial
With the backing of Indigenous groups from across New South Wales and Victoria, the University of Sydney is ready to trial paddocks of the grains to explore what yields they can deliver and their water usage.
Boonwurrung and Yuin man, Bruce Pascoe, has taken a pioneering role in bringing these native grains to the dining table, with his social enterprise developing and commercialising Indigenous food, on his property at Mallacoota.
Black Duck Foods’ mission is to care for the country while returning economic benefits directly to Indigenous people.
“We have to learn to listen to country and grow the plants that she wants to grow,” Mr Pascoe said.
Mr Pascoe said there are about 6,000 species of plants used throughout Aboriginal history, and he believed a shift back to these plants could also improve the environment.
“They only use the amount of water that the country can supply through rain, they don’t need any fertiliser, they don’t need any weedicide, pesticide or any chemicals at all,” he said.
Gamilaraay woman Rhonda Ashby joined the working group with a focus on improving diets within her community of Lightning Ridge.
“I’d like to see the industry right across Australia, even to go international,” Ms Ashby said.
The best way to the heart is through the stomach
From button grass to acacias, currajong seed to purslane — the working group is confident they can change the perception of these plants as ‘weeds’, and help them grow in an industry that shares stories and knowledge and continues the culture, while promoting reconciliation and employment opportunities.
“It’s a very confrontational thing for most non-Aboriginal people to accept the way history panned out, but sharing food over a table together is a more positive way of doing it,” Mr Pascoe said.
As the group met for the first time a traditional cook-up of johnnycakes was in order.
“We’ve got food on the barbie right now that’s these native grains being cooked and it’s so aromatic and sensual and beautiful, and it’s something that we’re looking at developing employment opportunities right from the field, all the way into someone’s stomach,” Dr Pattison said.
Some, like Ms Ashby, were taught as children which grains to use for cooking and she said it is now vital to pass that knowledge on to the next generation.
“Especially with our women and our children — not excluding the men, but I think women’s business needs to get back up again and get into finding those plants out on country, our native plants and medicines, and get back into some of those practical, cultural ways,” she said.
“Our native plants play a vital role in our survival.
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