Do you know where your fruit and veg is grown? Is it from WA, over east or even China or the US? I love a local Farmers Market, where you can chat to the people who picked the crop just hours before. The convenient lure of the big supermarkets is often too much for me. I still keep an eagle eye out for the Buy West Eat Best logo and any other indicators that I’m buying local produce. I like to keep my shopping dollar in WA.
The Chefs with our guide Robyn Bumbak (far right)
This is why I was SO excited to join in on the Gascoyne Food Festival’s Chef Tour of the Carnarvon plantations. We spent a day visiting just a handful of the many growers in the area. Carnarvon is an amazing food bowl – there’s such an impressive abundance of food grown and caught here. The quality is outstanding. Here’s what I found…
Robyn Bumbak of Bumbaks & Sons Grapes was our tour guide for the day. She’s incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about Gascoyne produce. We stopped at the Gascoyne River, which only flows a couple of times a year. There was actually a little water flowing. This is the lifeline of the plantations. Even when the river bed is bone dry, there is still water to be found in the underground aquafers.
Before we got going we stopped for some delicious, freshly baked goat pies from Mundillya Homestead. You can grab them from Meat@79 in Nedlands too!
First stop was seafood company Mareterram, where James Clement ran us through the fishing history of the area. Mareterram use sustainable methods to fish just 4000 sq kms of a 40000 sq km area per year for Tiger prawns, King Prawns, Blue Swimmer Crab and scallops. Their premium product is dipped in an organic melacide to stop discolouration of the prawns, when many other overseas companies use chemicals to do this.
Bumbaks & Sons Grapes
Robyn took us to her huge plantation of grapes, where the vines were just starting to shoot for the season. It was interesting to hear how Bumbaks team up with other growers from the Swan Valley and around WA to offer their customers an almost year-round supply of grapes.
Sweeter Banana Co
My Mum has always drilled into me from a young age that Carnarvon Bananas may be smaller, but they are far tastier than their Queensland counterparts. I have to agree and now that’s all my own family eats. I was thrilled to see where my “nanas” came from at the Sweeter Banana Co.
Here bananas are brought in from the plantation and sorted into the very recognisable packaging. These bags are necessary to protect the fruit, as Carnarvon bananas have thinner skins than other varieties of banana. It’s really important to note that a leaf of the banana tree may brush the banana and bruise the skin, but the fruit will still be perfect inside.
WA Food Ambassador, Chef Don Hancey loves the Sweeter Bananas too!
The next stop was the immense Kuzmicich Plantation. Which grows all sorts of fruit and vegetables year round. We marvelled at the rows and rows of capsicum and eggplant grown by the Kuzmicich family. Dan Kuzmicich took us through how the crops are grown, used high tech computerised monitors as well as the challenges they face. And who knew eggplants had such pretty flowers?!
Bumbaks Farm Shop
Robyn’s family also have a very popular produce shop selling all sorts of by-products of their fresh produce – including some absolutely delicious icecreams and preserves. My choc dipped mango icecream was amazing! I wish you could get them in Perth.
Farmer Paul Shain gave us a walking tour of the produce around Dessert Bloom. The no-nonsense local grows an incredible selection of fresh fruit and veggies. His simple philosophy of “Don’t f*** with the fruit!” really resonated with me. All my favourite restaurants (like Millbrook Winery and Manuka Woodfire Kitchen) focus on seasonal local produce and don’t mess about and get too “cheffy” with it, allowing the produce to be the star of the show.
These incredibly sweet strawberries are hands down THE BEST I’ve ever tasted. I was gutted to hear they don’t sell them in Perth, as their high sugar content means they don’t have a very long shelf life. We ate these at the Long Table Lunch, simply dipped in a little cream. I ate a bucket load of them!
Paul encouraged us to pick beans and corn straight from the plants. Everyone raved about the corn, it was deliciously sweet. Brendan Pang (from MasterChef) sure thought so to! Desert Bloom’s produce can be purchased at the Stirling and Claremont Farmers Markets.
What the Farmers Think
The common ground all producers had, regardless of the type of fruit or veg they grew, was the concern over waste caused by our major supermarkets demanding perfect produce. For me, I don’t care if my broccoli is too big, or my banana is too bendy. It’s probably going to be chopped, sliced and diced anyway! Apparently, it’s what the consumer wants, but I’m not convinced by this.
What we Can do to Support the Farmers
I came away from the Chefs Plantation Tour feeling 100% compelled to make sure my grocery dollar stays in WA, but unless you visit a farmers market and speak to the stall holders, it’s often hard to figure out the origin of fruit and veg at the shops.
You may be like me. I’m on auto pilot every time I hit the supermarket, my mind on a hundred other mummy/wifey/work-y things. I like to buy Aussie. I very rarely purchase fresh produce that is grown in Asia or overseas. What I’d really like to do, is to buy West Australian whenever I can and be really mindful of keeping my dollar in WA.
If you shop at your local growers market, then you’re buying WA produce – well done you! If you shop at Coles, IGA or Wollies, be sure to ask the store manager where the produce is from, if you’re not sure. They often list fruit and veg as “Produce of Australia”, which for me is only half way there. I want to know that the produce is WA grown – that it’s picked from a tree in Donnybrook, or plucked from a plant in Carnarvon. This kind of thing…
Off the top of my head, the only products I buy that I know are from WA are apples grown in the Southern Forests, Brownes Dairy/Harvey Fresh products, Mount Barker Chicken, Harvey Beef and Carnarvon Bananas – as they have labels and packaging that really catch my eye.
It’s hard yakka out on the plantations. Whether the producers have to contend with drought, floods or cyclones (some places are still repairing after the 2015 cyclone) or the supermarkets refusing their produce, as it’s “too big”, we need to consciously do our own little bit to support these wonderful West Aussies!
I toured the Carnarvon plantations as a guest of the Gascoyne Food Council.