Bush food that’s salt of the earth
A prominent WA sheep breeder has created a new business by supplying Australia’s top chefs with unusual native plants that thrive on unproductive salt-affected land.
David and Susan Thompson, of Moojepin Merino Stud at Katanning, this year expect to harvest about one tonne of plants including saltbush, baby pigface (also called karkalla), slender ice plant and samphire, all of which grow like weeds on the salty land.
But Mr Thompson expects that could increase to 10 tonnes a year within two years, as demand for the salty tasting produce and garnishes takes off, and he takes steps to improve the look and quality of the plants.
Mr Thompson, whose farm has about 350ha of degraded saltaffected land, said he had been supplying dry aged mutton to chef Dan Fisher in Perth, who at the time was importing saltbush from the Eastern States to use as a garnish in his restaurants.
The chef asked the Thompsons if they could supply local saltbush, essentially kicking off their bush foods foraging program on saline land. The Thompsons then partnered with Perth premium food distributor Lance McCloud to form Moojepin Foods, selling the saltbush and other native plants to WA and Eastern States restaurants.
And already the produce is gaining national recognition.
Moojepin Foods’ baby pigface — a ground-running creeper with plump, juicy leaves which taste like salty grapes — was awarded a gold medal at the Delicious magazine national producer awards.
Baby pigface, and a succulent called samphire, also known as sea asparagus, have the biggest growth potential. Working with Chatfields Nursery in Tammin, the Thompsons are looking to introduce better varieties of the native plants.
Mr Thompson said he was fortunate to have community support, for instance Katanning Logistics transported the bush foods to Perth weekly at no charge.
He hopes if the business takes off and there is enough demand, other farmers could also get on board, helping to earn good income from WA’s 1.2 million hectares of saltaffected land.
Moojepin Food co-principalDavid Thompson forages with daughter Natasha.