Deep in the dry soil of a country property, an Aboriginal farmer is sowing the seeds for a new opportunity to connect with troubled youth through native bush food cultivation.

Key points:

  • Dominic Smith aims to create an initiative with a focus on “connection back to the land”
  • The South Australian farmer says growers can’t keep up with the demand for bushfoods
  • He says a lot of culture has been lost but can be regained through teaching and sharing knowledge

Dominic Smith began farming native bush foods for commercial consumption three years ago, after previously growing vegetables at his property in Monash in South Australia’s Riverland region.

He grows bush tomatoes, quandongs, wattle seed, rosella and river mint.

“One of the reasons I wanted to get into native bushfoods and engage the communities is because there is only 1 per cent that are actually Aboriginal-owned farms.

Mr Smith also value-adds to his river mint, using it for teas.(ABC Rural: Jessica Schremmer)

As well as working on his farm, Mr Smith is studying nursing and aims to set up an initiative to support troubled youth and people dealing with mental health issues.

He said he was dedicated to setting the initiative’s focus on “connection back to the land”.

“I find it’s quiet out here [on the land], so there’s more holistic healing; being out in nature and working on something for the future, it does a massive [amount] for mental health.

“There is a lot of medicinal purposes for native foods — a connection to culture, and I think that’s a big part to healing.”

Native rosella is also grown on Mr Smith’s farm.(ABC: Marty McCarthy)

Native foods highly sought after

Native bushfoods have been part of the Indigenous diet for generations but are now gaining popularity among chefs across the world.

Mr Smith said while he had embraced this rising popularity, growers could not keep up with demand.

Mr Smith only recently started growing river mint and has seen high demand.(ABC Rural: Jessica Schremmer)

Since ramping up production, Mr Smith said he had seen especially strong interest in river mint.

“I got given one tiny little root system and I just started growing it; I loved the flavour and thought, ‘Bugger it, I’ll give it a good go’.”

He also started value-adding, using it to create a river mint tea.

Mr Smith currently cultivates hundreds of kilograms of bush foods but plans to grow a tonne within the next year.

He said he hoped more farmers would get involved to keep the industry growing.

“I think Australia has a massive opportunity for unique flavours and there is nothing like it out there except for here.”

Bush tomatoes have been a staple in Indigenous diets for generations.(ABC Rural: Jessica Schremmer)