This ‘superfood’ has been around for 60,000 years, so why don’t we use it more?

This ‘superfood’ has been around for 60,000 years, so why don’t we use it more?

In short: 

A Gamilaraay man is leading a push to make native grains a pantry staple.

A mill is being set up on the Sunshine Coast, with the hope of involving growers from across the country.

What’s next?

Proponents hope to create an industry for First Nations people, while also improving their health with the native “superfood”.

In an unassuming industrial estate on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Gamilaraay man Jacob Birch has been busy setting up a processing and milling enterprise for native grains. 

It might seem like a simple idea — milling the grains that have grown across this country for tens of thousands of years.

But Mr Birch said Yaamarra and Yarral was about more than just food production. 

He said the enterprise was aimed at fostering an industry that stayed in Indigenous hands, created employment, connected cultural knowledge, and improved the health of First Nations Australians.

“We’re trying to bring back a 60,000-year-old food system into a modern context, but retain that authenticity and integrity,” Mr Birch said.

Frustrated by data that showed less than 2 per cent of the bush food industry’s produce was being generated by Indigenous people, Mr Birch teamed up with passionate community members from across Australia.

“This is what has happened with so many other bush food industries — like Kakadu plum,” Mr Birch said.

“You tell everybody how good it is and it gets taken.

“We don’t want to lose it … we need to get ourselves in the position where we can actually benefit from this industry.”

Mr Birch says First Nations people should lead the grain initiative, which will benefit all.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Jessica Ross)

Learning from the past

Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man Bruce Pascoe is a farmer and the author of Dark Emu.

Mr Pascoe said there was no shortage of interest in bush food.

“We’re keen to share the knowledge of that food and share the food itself, of course,” he said.

“The problem is to make sure that Aboriginal people benefit from that interest because, otherwise, it will just be another dispossession.”

Native grains were used by Indigenous people to make breads, or crushed and eaten as a paste.(Supplied: National Library of Australia)

He shared Mr Birch’s fear that native grains could head the way of the Kakadu plum industry.

“The people whose country Kakadu plum grows on were trying to develop an industry using that fruit, as any grower would,” Mr Pascoe said.

“But the plant was taken away, grown in vast numbers by people in Hawaii and the local people lost control.

“We’re not trying to exclude people from the market, but we are saying we’ve got to be part of it.”

Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe says lessons can be learnt from other bush food industries.(Supplied: Michael Fairbairn)

Women’s business could hold the key

Gamilaraay and Yuwallaraay woman Rhonda Ashby is part of the Gamilaraay People Food Sovereignty Working Group, alongside Mr Birch. 

She has been working with women in her home town of Lightning Ridge to create a seed bank, so that they are ready to plant when they have access to more land — one of biggest challenges of the project. 

She hoped the development of native grain agriculture would strengthen cultural knowledge.

“Our native grasses hold food and medicine and story, song, language, dance, art — that connectedness and ceremony,” Ms Ashby said.

“It’s probably one of the biggest songlines across the continent.”

The native millet seed and flour is called Guli.(Supplied)

‘Superfood’ native grains

Ms Ashby believed native grains could also hold the key to better health, particularly for Indigenous Australians. 

“If our people become overall good with their wellbeing and their wellness, I think the country will heal as well,” she said.

Ms Ashby said knowledge about the health benefits of bush food lay in the language.

“One of the native grains I’ve been working with is Mitchell grass, which is named after the explorer Thomas Mitchell,” she said.

“But in our language, we call it ganalay, and when we break that word up in language, ‘gana’ is a word for liver, so we know that type of grain was good for our liver.”

Mr Birch said his research had also shown gluten-free species of native grains were a “superfood” with “as high antioxidants as blueberries”, iron content “as high as beef liver supplements” and “twice the amount of calcium than in full cream cow’s milk”.

Catch up on our NAIDOC Week content at the Indigenous page and on ABC iView

Growing the supply chain

Eastern Arrernte woman Tanika Orr is a bush tucker chef on the Sunshine Coast.

She said because there were so few native grain mills and people cultivating the crops, low supply meant high prices. 

“I’d really love to see, across the board in Australia, all different mobs working within their own country to see what grasses were growing there,” Ms Orr said.

“And just trying to give them a bit of a hand to get them growing again.”

Tanika Orr hopes to see young kids getting excited about their culture and food.(Supplied: Tanika Orr)

Mr Birch is about to travel to the United States to explore how Indigenous communities are revitalising traditional food systems there.

“It seems like they are 50 years ahead of us,” he said.

“Wild rice in Minnesota for example, they are across that whole supply chain.

“People in the community harvest the rice, they have indigenous-run processing and they do the branding and packaging.

Mr Birch hopes native grains can become a pantry staple in place of heavily processed products.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Jessica Ross)

“They sell that to the commercial markets and have their own restaurants where they showcase this native food.

“They’re asserting their right to control that and to determine what happens to that natural resource.”

Get our local newsletter, delivered free each Wednesday

Read More

Zaļā Josta - Reklāma