Australia has more than 6,000 thousand edible plant species and Rus, who is also the Deputy Chair of Australian Native Food and Botanicals (ANFAB) can list a fair chunk of them. Some plants can be found along the roadside, in gardens and along creek banks. You just need to know how to identify them.
Take for example the Acacia “wattle” species which are found across Australia. Of the 1,146 species identified, at least 150 species have been used by Indigenous Australians for thousands of years as food, medicine or materials for tools and weapons.
“The Egyptians were thought to be the first to grind and bake these seeds but there is evidence that Indigenous Australians were doing this over 25,000 years ago and today wattle seed can be used in coffee, ice cream, biscuits and bread and a wide range of foods.”
Rus Glover’s knowledge of native foods is encyclopaedic, and he believes every plant has a use.
He can speak easily about a conventional crop such as garlic and its benefits, to harnessing the nutrient value of native potatoes and yams of which there are many species, or the antioxidants contained in the species Syzygium leuhmannii, which is commonly known as the riberry or lilly pilly.
“The lilly pilly has 19 essential oils and in some places like Japan, the plant is freeze dried and used as a tea. In Adelaide, they even use it in sorbet,” said Rus.
“I am growing three tonnes of the Rosella bush on my farm which is extremely high in amino acids and demand is increasing.”
Rus lives on the Mid North Coast of NSW between the town of Woolgoolga and Sandy Beach, 20 kilometres north of Coffs Harbour on a 100-acre farm.
He has always had a commercial nursery and his love of plants is infectious.
“I became interested in commercialising native species as I’ve spent a lifetime growing all kinds of plants and studying them,” said Rus.
“The industry recognises the importance of benefit sharing native bush foods through the international protocol on biological diversity. It is very important that Indigenous Australians are involved every step of the way.”
He believes western values have wiped out traditional knowledge but that the pendulum is changing.
“Bruce Pascoe’s Book Dark Emu is essential reading for anyone wanting to know about Indigenous Australians and their systems of food production and land management and how they have been blatantly understated in modern retellings of early Aboriginal history,” said Rus.
“I think there’s no doubt that as a country we have denigrated and ignored what has been sitting in front of us for a very long time.”
People want to know more about bush foods
Rus believes people are curious and want to know more about native bush foods, whether that is from a consumer point of view or a farming perspective with online interest, booming.
“I think COVID-19 has helped push consumers into seeking out Australian products,” said Rus.
“We have sharpened our ideas around food safety and keeping our employees safe. Having an online presence has really made a difference to a lot of farmers around Coffs Harbour because they’ve been able to sell food without having to be physically present.”
And he believes it is an approach that is here to stay.
“This is definitely going to be the way of doing business into the future. The entire internet buying and distribution ecosystem will get better over time,” said Rus.
Scratching the surface
Learning to grow what grows naturally such as wattle seed is just the beginning for native bush foods.
“It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture and as an industry body ANFAB are keen to attract agriculture graduates and investment from across Australia into the industry,” said Rus.
“Currently we certify when food is grown organically and we think this approach could be used around the traditional knowledge and intellectual property of Indigenous Australians for native bush foods.”
Rus also wants to work with conventional farmers so that it is an industry-led response.
“I’ve done lots of things in my life from working in a blast furnace for BHP, working as a landscaper and in coastal management, running a commercial nursery and working for the Department of Agriculture in sustainable agriculture.’
“I feel like I’ve come full circle and there’s no better time than now to be involved,” said Rus.
Rus Glover is the principal investigator for the AgriFutures Emerging Industries project Accelerating wattleseed production for the Australian native food industry. For more information on this exciting project go to:
Interested in growing the Australian native bush foods industry? The AgriFutures Emerging Industries Program is seeking applications to increase the production and capacity and value of industries such as native bush foods. Applications close Friday, 18 December 2020. For more information, visit: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/2020-emerging-industries-open-call/