Female bush food harvesters from nine remote Territory communities met for the first time in the Utopia region to share their experiences and learn about the wider bush food industry from traders, entrepreneurs, researchers and public servants.
The 35 Alyawarr and Anmatyerr-speakers, who gathered at Arlparra community for a week in June, have been described as the backbone of Australia’s bush food industry because they have collected and sold seeds and fruit from their country for more than 40 years.
Demand for their wild harvest, which is used to make foods such as pickles and biscuits and to revegetate former mining sites, outstrips supply.
The NT Government and the Central Land Council teamed up with Batchelor Institute of Tertiary Education and Urapuntja Aboriginal Corporation to find out what the women need to grow their industry.
Veteran bush foods caterer Rayleen Brown from Alice Springs has been a link between the women and the wider industry.
Ms Brown said it is important for industry figures to understand and support the women.
“This workshop has needed to happen for a very long time. We need to hear about how they feel to be part of this growing industry. What do they need? What are their concerns? Do they want help to continue this wonderful work that they are doing?” she said.
While the wild harvesters may be our first and truest primary producers, they can’t do it all on their own.
The women called for support for cultural burn regimes that maintain seed and fruit production, for more knowledge about how product prices are calculated and how to best clean and prepare their product.
They see better communication with traders, wholesalers, food manufacturers, supermarkets and shoppers as a key to growing their opportunities.
“These women are often invisible or ignored,” Ms Brown said.
“Customers are not aware of their hard work. They don’t just collect for income. They love their country, culture and foods. You feel the love and care. Each seed and fruit is hand-picked. They provide premium products that can’t be matched by horticultural harvest.”
Not surprisingly, multi-media resources and support for the next generation of harvesters are also high on the women’s wish list, as is including wild harvesting in community work programs and the sale of bush foods in stores and nutrition programs.
The harvesters are determined to make hay, or rather collect seeds, while the sun shines and plan a follow-up workshop when the next wattle seed crop is ready.