Traditional cultural harvest helps native tuber ‘go gangbusters’ in regional Victoria

Cosmos Magazine


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By Cosmos

When it comes to the native foods industry, this is an old story with a new angle.

The native farms and greenhouses in Australia have continued to grow, building on the knowledge and traditional agricultural methods from Elders and Traditional Owners on Country.

Based on the ethos of “food connects us all,” Black Duck Foods in Mallacoota in eastern Victoria is finding new ways to pay homage to traditional methods while growing native plants and species.

Black Duck Foods general manager Bram Mason said he had seen huge growth in one tuber using traditional methods.

“One really special one to us is munyang, and we’ve found through some cultural practices that we can keep the plants alive and we can harvest tubers as we go,” he said.

“And the plants themselves actually thrive from the cultural harvest of the tubers.

“They’ve just gone gangbusters, they’re enormous compared to where you’d see them in pre-European colonisation grassland where they’re tiny.

“Not only are they in abundance, but they’re also five to ten centimetres long.”

As for what they are doing with the abundance of munyang, Mason says they are being sold to chefs and restaurateurs.

“We’re getting it into some high-end restaurants and getting some really good support and feedback.

“Ben Shewry at Attica Restaurant in Melbourne has been doing a little bit of cooking it too.”

Mason said the Djakitjuk Djanga grant through Agriculture Victoria and the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations in 2020 had helped support the business and fuel the social enterprise side of Black Duck Foods.

“The grant enabled us to get five rangers on Country, which was absolutely amazing,” he said.

“It’s meant that we’ve been able to empower those rangers to have income coming into the family units, and enable them to go out and rent properties for themselves and even consider purchasing properties.

“Because we’ve been able to bring in other cultural expertise like other Yuin people… they are experimenting, exploring and going back to Elders and asking for advice and then bringing that back to the farm.”

Black Duck Foods’ aim is to redevelop traditional food growing on Country.

However, through trial and error they have found combining traditional and European methods has produced more foodstuffs.

“We can learn from data from European agriculture as well, and that’s where we look at some of the harvesting techniques we can upscale using traditional methods,” Mason said.

“With seed processing for example, we use traditional methods. Using grindstones is effective.

“But we can speed that up using European techniques as well, which means we can produce more of our traditional foodstuffs, which (in turn) means we can sell them and those proceeds go back into community.”

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