CEO REPORT – DEC 2019/JAN 2020

by Tracey Hodgkins, Southern Dirt Chief Executive Officer

Harvest is upon us already and Christmas is around the corner. Can’t quite believe how quickly it all seems to have passed this year. The last month or two has been one of travel and knowledge building to guide our next moves with a new strategic plan, along with our 10th birthday celebration on the horizon. Our team is busy collecting data for the many projects we have undertaken in 2019 and we continue to apply for grants and tenders that will deliver onground results.  

With this in mind I attended the World Gourmet Symposium which is a conference aimed at the WA food industry. The world of hospitality is intrinsically linked to the food you as members grow, however there is much misunderstanding on farming methods and challenges. Much of the talk was around future foods, waste and local ingredients. Indigenous and foraged foods as well as place and story seem to be increasingly of interest to consumers and chefs want to reflect that in their cooking. They, as well as most consumers, are looking for ancient grains, gluten free ingredients and food that comes from ethically sustainable farms whatever that means. Our new “Grown in Southern Dirt” project will be looking at what that is for our region.

So what does that mean for us financially? Trialling and delivering produce at a premium price that enhance our systems. It gives us a chance to diversify in ways that benefit each rotation with a robust market to consume the produce. Also, we need to start featuring you as farmers to increase value.  Our Flax crop will be in shops 2020 and this is where we will test these marketing concepts and deliver our first traceable and farmer featured packaging. I’ll let you know when we are ready to go. 

I have been spending some time investigating the world of bush foods and its links to nutrition and medicine in the aboriginal world at the request of some of our members. This was featured at the symposium as well as the Merinj Kaartdijin Aboriginal Food Knowledge Forum I attended. Bush foods are hot in the market and will continue to be well into the future, but we need to look at what can grow and where and how to process it to compliment existing farm practices. Most are foraged or wild harvested and cultivation is a specialist activity. The world however can’t get enough so there is definitely some merit. Saltbush is just one example in our region that is taking off but there are many more. It may be a way to use some of your less arable land.

Our team has been busy contacting all members. If you could please take 5 minutes even while you are on the header, we would be extremely grateful. This feedback will guide us in our delivery of the strategic plan and give you a chance to let us know exactly what you want us to do over the next 3 years. 

I wish you great yields and a Merry Christmas. Until next year!

Figure 1: World Gourmert Symposium grazing table
Figure 2: International Chef David Chang at the World Gourmet Symposium
Figure 3: Merinj Kaartdijin Aboriginal Food Knowledge Forum
Figure 4: Bronwyn at the Merinj Kaartdijin Aboriginal Food Knowledge Forum