Northern Rivers’ Pocket Herbs – a cutting edge producer of specialist edible plants in Burringbar Valley – has entered into a research partnership with Southern Cross University to determine the nutritional (and anti-nutritional) content of native bush foods.
Up to 20 bush food varieties will be selected and their propagation optimised in greenhouse conditions.
The year-long $95,000 study is jointly funded by the federal government’s Entrepreneurs Program – Innovation Connections grant and Pocket Herbs. Southern Cross Plant Science, based at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus, will be providing research leadership.
‘The selected plants and seeds will be germinated and propagated at both a Pocket Herbs greenhouse and in Southern Cross Plant Science facilities for biosecurity reasons,’ said Pocket Herbs co-owner and horticulturist Iain Reynolds.
‘Southern Cross Plant Science will develop protocols for the selected varieties to achieve optimum yields and quality using existing greenhouse growth tables and irrigation, analysing the nutritional profile for a decided set of plant macro- and micronutrients and antioxidants, as well as anti-nutrients (oxalates).’
Peter Hardwick, a Northern Rivers wild plant researcher and professional forager, said that Pocket Herbs’ continued development of quality micro-product was a welcome first in Australia.
‘Succulent wild vegetables have become very popular in high-end restaurants, and it’s time to really start producing these crops more consistently and in larger volumes.
‘Horticultural production provides a reliable supply and quality which the marketplace needs. But we need to know what the optimum conditions are for these as crops, and I am looking forward to assisting Pocket Herbs and SCU in this research.’
Pocket Herbs supplies to wholesalers and local providores, who in turn supply to chefs, restaurants, and cafes. ‘We grow in a sustainable manner utilising little water (our system recycles water) and have over 42kW of solar power installed,’ said Mr Reynolds.
‘Our crops are grown in a controlled greenhouse environment using sustainable agricultural practices. These practices involve soil-less growing techniques and the collection and re-use of rainwater. No fungicides or chemical pesticides are used.’
Associate Professor Bronwyn Barkla, director of Southern Cross Plant Science, said she was excited to be involved in the project. ‘Many of the plants selected are naturally salt-tolerant species. One of our objectives is to determine what the protocols for optimal salt treatment during growth to produce a deliciously salty salad leaf for the consumer,’ she said.
Darren Robertson TAFE ambassador with Pocket Herbs’ assistant manager Ian Collie.