PRODUCERS, food marketers, industry members, and a celebrity chef, united at Bruce and Helen Hill’s Achacha Farm in Giru recently to explore the potential for the Burdekin Dry Tropics to become the next sustainable food hub.
The forum gave more than 50 attendees an idea of the potential co-operatives and networks operating in the region, and a chance to learn from others about the business of horticulture, get inspired and informed through case studies, and receive the latest research and development insights.
The event drew a diverse audience including producers from across North Queensland who grow a range of products including achacha, coffee, limes, seasonal vegetables, honey, and gourmet mushrooms.
Geraldine McGuire from Rainforest Bounty travelled down from the Tablelands to share her insights about how she built a network of organic farms and how the Taste Paradise producer network is benefiting growers by sharing information and collaborating to promote local food.
The Hills who developed the achacha industry in Australia after a visit to Bolivia said there's a “growing interest in Australian native produce and we should embrace it”.
They sell to established markets for the premium fruit, plus process the pulp and skins for a multitude of products including palettas (gelato), preserves, and a nutritious drink made from the skins.
Laurent and Kim Verpeaux from Jourama Farms Gourmet Mushrooms spoke about quitting city life for a new challenge which involved unearthing the hidden world of mycorrhizae.
“The focus of my discussion centred on mycorrhizal species of fungi that live underground and support the ecosystem above, what it means for farmers, consumers, landscapes and our future, and how to grow and inoculate your own mycorrhizae-rich soil at home,” Mrs Verpeaux said.
Dr Yasmina Sultanbawa from the UQ Centre for Nutrition and Food Science detailed her research which focusses on food processing, preservation, food safety and nutrition.
She presented a Kakadu plum case study based on her Australian native plant foods work, and and how she’s incorporating these into mainstream agriculture and diet diversification.
She also works with Indigenous communities to develop nutritious and sustainable products from native plants.
Growcom’s Steve Tiley and Bowen Gumlu Growers’ Association’s Anna McCowan presented industry updates and valuable research and development information for those in attendance.
All in attendance were treated to a live cooking demonstration by Australia’s only hatted Indigenous chef and star of ABC TV’s Wild Kitchen, Clayton Donovan.
Talking about his own background and the exciting opportunities for native foods as he prepped; Mr Donovan whipped up a kangaroo san choy bow with bush tomato, showing how easy, nutritious and tasty it is to use native Australian ‘bush tucker’ in everyday cooking.
NQ Dry Tropics Regional Landcare Facilitator Peter Arthofer said exploring the options to promote more Australian native foods in mainstream markets and supporting indigenous food tourism was one of the key focuses of the day, with Bindal leader Eddie Smallwood giving an update about what Gudjuda Reference Group Aboriginal Corporation was up to in this space.
“We explored everything from turning waste into a resource, how to work together as small businesses, the role of beneficial bugs and how we can best tell the local food story,” Mr Arthofer said.
“This event was a fantastic opportunity to bring a wide variety of growers, industry representatives and food experts together,” he said.
“Throughout the day there were many conversations between farmers discussing how they could share resources and information on sustainable production, and build the local producer network.”
NQ Dry Tropics NRM strategy and partnerships manager Donna Turner said the forum was an event first for the region and thanked all speakers for contributing their expertise.
“To have access to this calibre of knowledge is invaluable and we hope attendees came away inspired by the opportunities,” she said.
“The horticulture industry is not static, and we are always supporting industry to look for innovative ways to develop sustainable opportunities and help to safeguard our natural resources for the future.”
The event was an initiative of NQ Dry Tropics and was supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.