Saline bush food benefits on menu as innovative farm opens gates to the public for the first time

Shannon SmithGreat Southern Herald
Host farmer David Thompson and soil scientist Dr Jolene Otway in one of the saltbush plantations being monitored.
Camera IconHost farmer David Thompson and soil scientist Dr Jolene Otway in one of the saltbush plantations being monitored. Credit: Supplied

The gates of an innovative saline bush food farm will open to the public for the first time next month.

David Thompson, who farms at Badgebup, started growing plants in salt-affected areas almost five years ago and supplying the product to gourmet chefs as Moojepin Foods.

“I found out a Perth restaurant which I was supplying mutton to was importing saltbush from South Australia,” Mr Thompson said. “I basically said that I have some at my farm, and will just pop some in for him with the next delivery of meat. It grew very quickly from there.

“It was a way to bring value back to degraded land, to turn an economic benefit for the farmer, contribute to food security and hopefully help see an improvement in health of land that has been damaged by salinity.”

In 2017, Katanning Landcare teamed up with Mr Thompson to develop a paddock-to-plate supply chain of saline bush foods and then teach others how to become producers.

Now halfway through the project, he will host the Saline Bush Foods Spring Field Day to show the progress.

Katanning Landcare’s Ella Maesepp said the field day would teach attendees about the three growing systems refined for saltbush, pigface, ice-plant and samphire. They will also learn about the original wild harvest sites, planted stands of the edible species and a full shadehouse horticultural system irrigated with saline groundwater.

“The four-year project is about learning how to grow, market and supply these foods, while better understanding the impact on salinity, which we expect to be positive,” she said.

“Working out how to grow these saline species consistently to a high quality is only part of the equation, though.

“The project is also addressing how to harvest, pack and market these products, as well as to introduce the consumer to these different foods.

“If we can bring saline land back into production, improve its health, provide more employment and income for rural communities and help feed the world, then we’ll have succeeded.”

As part of the project, research is being conducted on the impact of groundwater use, soil health and how to effectively harvest the plant.

The bush food will be served up for lunch for attendees to try.

Chatfields Engineering lead developer Dustin McCreery has been working on machinery for harvesting, and he said the prototype would be shown for the first time at the event.

“The first machine shapes saltbush to a regular form, so that the second machine — which has been adapted from a carrot harvester — can follow through approximately every six weeks to delicately harvest the soft new shoots desired for human consumption,” he said.

The Saline Bush Foods Field Day will take place from 10am to 3pm on Thursday, October 15.

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