Bush Foods Spring Field Day      

On Thursday 15th October, in perfect spring weather, the Saline Bush foods Project threw open the gates to the public for the very first time.

Around 50 people were present at the event, which was the first opportunity to see over two years worth of work in the development of a paddock-to-plate supply chain of high value gourmet foods produced using degraded land and water.

The day began with a heartfelt Welcome to Country from Wuddi Aboriginal Tours, who are working with the project as cultural advisors, before getting stuck into the nuts and bolts of what is going on.

Project manager Ella Maesepp from Katanning Landcare described how this project, funded by the Australian Governments National Landcare Program Smart Farming Partnerships, is aiming to work out how to do every step of the full supply chain – growing, harvesting, packing, marketing and teaching.

“This project is about trying different ways, making mistakes and then eventually teaching others the successful way of doing things, so that we can grow an industry.” She explained. “We’re the guinea pigs, and in our mind is constantly ‘will another farmer be able to do this with the skills and resources he/she can reasonably access?’”

Gourmet food marketer Lance McLeod of WAGOGA introduced the group to the plants being grown in this project – ice-plants, samphire, pigface (karkalla) and saltbush – and the complexities of introducing ‘new’ foods to end consumers and restaurateurs.

“Feedback from users of the product is really important in driving how we grow the plants, and how we harvest,” explained Lance. “We need to be able to consistently supply a desirable quality product.”

Katanning Environmental Incs Matt Collis then gave the group an update on the development of a Packing Shed, at the old Saleyards site in Katanning, and how this new infrastructure will open up enterprise opportunities for the district.

The participants then split into two groups, taking the opportunity to visit two of the growing systems, before switching with each other.

Out in the saltbush plantation site, Chatfields Dustin McCreery gave the lowdown on the saltbush variety “Seakiss” which has been selected for its human palatability requirements, before cranking up the engine on the brand new saltbush former machine.

Adapted to sit at the front of a tractor, the former trims down saltbush plants, removing much of the woody component, and is expected to be used on a saltbush plantation once every few years. Many of the farmers present thoroughly enjoyed checking out the attachment!

It paves the way for the second machine – the harvester – which is an adaption of a tea-leaf harvester as used in tea plantations in India, mounted onto a quad bike. It is able to take off the tender regrowth from the plant, in a size and condition ready for packaging.

Meanwhile, the other group were busy in the shadehouse with host farmer David Thompson and horticulturalist Tony Merceica. They viewed a number of different species – including heart leaf ice-plant and red karkalla – that are being grown on benched, irrigated only using saline groundwater from a bore sunk nearby. Powered by a stand-along solar and battery system, the shadehouse system is helping to address seasonality issues, as well as making harvesting of the product more efficient – reducing the need to bend, or to have edible sprigs covered with dirt as occurs in natural harvest sites.

A highlight of the field day was the much anticipated lunch, which showcased the bush foods being produced. Prepared like a work of art by local chef Janelle Nehme from Gypsy Kitchen Co, the grazing table featured dishes such as saltbush damper, samphire pesto, bush spiced bread sticks, cherry tomato and red karkalla relish and some decadent samphire caramel chocolate truffles!

To round out the afternoon, participants carpooled into a convoy of white utes and 4WDs to visit the wild harvest samphire sites, down on the extensive salt flats. There, the conversation about the expected environmental outcomes from increased growth, management and groundwater use that the project is hoping to achieve – and is being monitored by soil scientists – came to life.

Finally a question and answer session with the project team and Landcare Chairman Scott Newbey finished out a full, interesting and inspiring day!

The Project Team L-R: Ella Maesepp (Katanning Landcare), Matt Collis (Katanning Environmental Inc), David Thompson (Moojepin Foods), Lance McLeod (WAGOGA), Dustin McCreery (Chatfields), Tony Merceica (Swan Valley Flower Farm).