A LOCAL farmer says the native food industry is experiencing one of its biggest booms in recent history.
With awareness and interest in the value and uses of bush foods on the rise, demand for crops such as lemon myrtle, finger limes and Davidson's plums are at a high, but local farmers say the region needs a more co-ordinated approach to developing the industry if it is to take full advantage of the upturn.
Tintenbar grower and supplier, and public officer for native food business alliance Bushfood Sensations, Rebecca Barnes, attributes much of the the buzz around bushfoods to Danish chef Rene Redzepi, who brought his acclaimed restaurant Noma to Sydney for a 10-week pop-up last January, and cooked exclusively with native Australian ingredients.
"It's just gone ballistic since then,” Ms Barnes
"This year we've sold about 2.5 tonnes of lemon myrtle - five years ago we'd be lucky to be doing half a tonne.”
She said sales of other local native foods such as finger limes and bunya nuts had also skyrocketed.
"Once we'd sell a couple of hundred kilos of finger limes, now it's a couple of tonnes, and bunya nuts we're doubling every year.”
Tuckombil macadamia and native fruit grower Anthony Hotson has been in the industry since 1994, and seen plenty of ups and downs, but says this time could be different.
"Plenty of people have predicted a boom in native foods before - at least a couple of times in the past 20 years,” he said.
"Things are bit different now.
"There's a bigger upswing and more people are involved.”
Mr Hotson believes the current buzz around native foods is an offshoot of a larger food movement, that has seen increasing interest among consumers in the provenance of their food, a desire to experiment with new flavours, and a backlash against industrially produced foods.
There has also been growing interest in the health and medicinal benefits of native foods.
Seven of the 15 bush foods grown commercially in Australia are native to the Northern Rivers region, so there is plenty of potential for the development of the local industry, particularly on the red soils, which are original Big Scrub rainforest country, Mr Hotson said.
"A lot of species are really well suited to this region. There are a lot of small-scale landholdings suitable to small-scale tree cropping. Native foods definitely lend themselves to that.”
He said despite this, there were still a lot of challenges to be overcome.
"They're the oldest foods on earth and yet it's still a new industry,” he said.
Marketing and education, processing and information sharing were all still issues that needed to be addressed.
"It would be great if there was a local industry body,” he said.
Ms Barnes agreed: "We're not going to survive as an industry if we don't pool our resources,” she said.
She said the industry also needed some new faces to meet future demand.
"There is a lot of potential, but nowhere near enough players.
"If we don't start growing now, in five years time there won't be anything left.”
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