A growing interest in bush tucker ingredients is gradually expanding the customer base for Mid North Coast producer Dondingalong Organic Bushfoods.
The eight-hectare (20-acre) Pipers Creek Grove property, in the Macleay Valley near Kempsey, now run by Jules and Liza Gilmour, is a real family farm, having been originally planted out in 1999 by Jules’ father and younger brother as her father’s retirement project.
However when he became seriously ill Jules and Liza moved onto the property to look after him and following his death took over the management of the nearly 4000 trees.
Although Jules and Liza both work full time off-farm they say the bush food operation is a joy to be involved with, even if it doesn’t leave them with a lot of spare time.She is motivated to by her father’s vision for the farm, Jules said.
“Dad put so much of his heart and soul into the property, I want to keep it going,” she said.
“Keeping it going involves looking after and harvesting 800 Australian blood limes, 300 Davidson plums, 300 lemon myrtles, 2000 aniseed myrtles, 80 finger limes, 200 Illawarra plums and 50 cinnamon myrtles.
“Fortunately most of the trees are Australian natives and don’t require much looking after.”
“We feed the blood limes and the recently planted finger limes and the rest are mainly self-caring,” Jules said.
Until last year Jules and Liza ran a herd of about 20 sheep in the orchard to keep the grass down and fertilise the trees, however a series of wild dog attacks destroyed the herd.
They have recently bought three Dexter steers to take over the grazing duties and in the meantime mow the nearly four hectares of orchard, using the cut grass as mulch around the trees.
Jules and Liza sell their certified organic produce both as fresh fruit and leaves and as value added products including marmalades, oils, pastes and powders.
Products listed on their website –www.piperscreekgrove.com – include the fresh organic blood limes, which are sold by the kilogram from April to October, Blood Lime Marmalade, Davidson Plum Jam, Davidson Plum and Ground Aniseed Myrtle Paste, Lemon Myrtle and Aniseed Myrtle Essential Oils, fresh and dried Lemon Myrtle leaf, and fresh and dried Aniseed Myrtle Myrtle leaf.
Along with the website, the Dondingalong products are sold via Farmhouse Direct, some retail outlets in Kempsey and sometimes at local farmers markets.
The fresh products are also sold through wholesale markets in Sydney and Brisbane.
The bush food industry is expanding as more people hear about the ingredients and decide to try them out at home, Jules says.
This process has been helped along by celebrated Mid North Coast Aboriginal chef Clayton Donovan’s recent television series Wild Kitchen, which featured a segment involving the farm, using Jules and Liza’s blood limes and Blood Lime Marmalade in a dish with local spatchcock, which was marinated in the marmalade and cooked using caramelised fresh limes.
Having the series screened for three months on Qantas international flights also helped spark interest in the bush tucker produce.
While Jules and Liza enjoy experimenting with new recipes and trialling new uses for their farm products, there are only so many hours in the day, and they are happy to supply other chefs and processors with the raw ingredients – meaning they also get the pleasure of trying out the end product.
One local producer recently made a batch of water buffalo milk-based blood lime and coconut gelato – which was apparently a great success.Bush tucker production is still a relatively new industry, and like most primary production endeavours involves trial and error.
Jules has found that only the Queensland variety of Davidson Plum does well on the property, with another NSW variety also planted being removed as a failure.
The red and green finger limes were planted about two years ago in their place.All the trees take a few years to mature and come into production.
An organic garlic crop was also grown successfully next to the trees and will be repeated when time permits.
All the fruit and leaves are harvested by hand, with the spiky blood limes requiring gloves.
All in all it is very labour intensive all there is a lot of work involved, but the unexpected notion of “excitement” keeps cropping up in Jules’ description of the farm . . . “picking the fruit and finding customers for them - it’s so exciting,” she said.