The Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations has partnered with the Victorian Government to harness the power of Victoria’s traditional native food industry.

The Djakitjuk Djanga program, which translates to ‘Country’s Food’ in Dja Dja Wurrung language, will provide over $2 million in grants to support 13 Aboriginal native plant businesses.

Grants of up to $200,000 will be available to eligible Aboriginal Victorian-owned businesses to assist with overcoming key resource related barriers to commercially producing native plants for food and botanicals.

Chief executive of the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations, Paul Patton, said the program is intended to assist local businesses and economies as well as share the benefits of native foods.

“Traditional Owners are proud to share the benefits of our ancient knowledge and practices with the world … whether through food, medicines, supplements, cosmetics or other products,” he said.

“This program will help us grow a culturally authentic industry, boosting our local businesses and economies.”


Return to traditional foods

One grant recipient, Black Duck Foods, will use the funds to engage a farm manager and labourer, and purchase agronomy expertise, seed, equipment and small-scale infrastructure on their trial site at Gypsy Point.

The social enterprise founded by Bruce Pascoe is committed to traditional food-growing processes that care for Country and return economic benefits directly to Indigenous people.

“Black Duck Foods is about trying to re-establish the traditional agricultural methods and systems that were used pre-colonisation and reinvigorate that back into the Australian food system,” said General Manager of Black Duck Foods, Chris Andrews.

Yuin man Terry Hayes working on Bruce Pascoe’s farm. Photo supplied by Chris Andrews.

Andrews said the Djakitjuk Djanga grants program acknowledges the importance of overcoming the barriers in keeping the native bush food industry alive. The project will assist Black Duck Foods in extending their crop production of native grasses and tubers.

“To grow traditional foods, in the past, they were grown in soil that was a metre deep,” Andrews said.

“And now we are faced with having to grow traditional grasses, tubers and other bush foods in effectively porcelain.

“Grants like this acknowledge … that to return to traditional food systems takes a significant investment to overcome those sorts of barriers, both … environmental … and obviously the barriers that have prevented First Nations people from accessing equitable … revenue sources from bush tucker.”


Normalising native food

Andrews hopes the collective action of those involved in the program will help to normalise native foods.

“The barriers to put traditional foods … into the mainstream food system … make it exceedingly onerous to normalise these foods,” he said.

“I’m hoping through this collective action of those that are participating in this program, that barriers are talked about, and solutions are looked at.”

“From a food safety perspective, nothing tells you a food is safer than having 65,000 years of history behind it.”

The grant has also assisted Aboriginal-owned and led corporation, Nalderun, to establish an Indigenous Bush Tucker Farm in Harcourt, about an hour and a half’s drive northwest from Melbourne.

The new farm will represent an extension of nearby town Castlemaine’s local Indigenous catering business, Murnong Mammas, which serves native flavours to the community.

Dja Dja Wurrung Elder Aunty Julie McHale played a key role in applying for the grant and will be sharing her knowledge of bush tucker plants in the new space.

With the grant, the business will establish a commercial native food garden and plan to use their grant to employ a part-time gardener, set up an irrigation system and purchase equipment to support sales.

“It’s also going towards a shed, there’s going to be a dehydrator for the Murnong Mammas … There will be a greenhouse, there will be areas where we will be able to teach and train,” said Yorta Yorta woman and chief executive of Nalderun, Kathryn Coff.

Coff said representing Victoria’s native food industry through these grants is essential in growing the native food industry.

“It’s essential for this country … that the knowledge-based system that actually works, is the one that’s represented. And that knowledge is held strong within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes visited Nalderun Indigenous Group in Harcourt to announce the recipients.

“The Djakitjuk Djanga grants program contributes to the development of an authentic Victorian native foods and botanicals industry and celebrates the rich variety of native plants that add a unique Australian touch to products,” said Minister Symes.

Applications for grants close May 6, 2021.

By Grace Crivellaro