Bush food that’s salt of the earth

Great Southern Herald - - News - Jenne Bram­mer

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.

Pic­ture: Bob Gar­nant

Moo­jepin Food co-prin­ci­palDavid Thomp­son for­ages with daugh­ter Natasha.

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