Black Duck Foods re-establishing traditional food growing, country management processes

Black Duck Foods seek to create new opportunities for Indigenous community as part of the journey being undertaken towards food sovereignty. Photo: Black Duck Foods
Black Duck Foods seek to create new opportunities for Indigenous community as part of the journey being undertaken towards food sovereignty. Photo: Black Duck Foods

Located five kilometres from the NSW-Victorian border, Black Duck Foods is working on a vision to redevelop traditional food growing and country management processes for the economic benefit of Indigenous people.

Having been held back by drought, bushfires and COVID, the social enterprise kicked off in earnest at the start of July last year in Mallacoota, working with and for community, part of which involves growing native grasses and tubers.

General manager Chris Andrew said, so far, Black Duck Foods was "going gangbusters".

"We are a small organisation with a big voice and it's demonstrable. We are bringing a lot of community on board," Chris said.

The premise works on the basis that Australia's post-colonial food system has seriously degraded the environment, "a result of both the wilful and accidental neglect of the complex interconnections between food systems and the wider ecosystem".

"This has been compounded by the forced abandonment of the Indigenous Australian practices of caring for country," Chris said.

"There have been 250 years worth of damage to the countryside, we have to relearn. We are now working in poor soils and many species have been damaged."

A new yarn about a very old story: for a long time, the story of traditional agriculture was buried. Photo: Black Duck Foods.

A new yarn about a very old story: for a long time, the story of traditional agriculture was buried. Photo: Black Duck Foods.

Seeking to re-establish traditional practices, a day on the farm is dependent on the climate and season.

Some days involve work with fire, harvesting seeds, processing seed into grain, working on basic farm infrastructure, or hosting workshops.

"The team are working relative to what country wants them to do, essentially this is putting humans back in touch with a natural food system as we try to re-establish it," Chris said.

"Seeing Indigenous people tell their own stories is a very important part. We are actively encouraging Indigenous people to be employed to learn and share traditional knowledge."

Three board members out of six are Yuin men, including Jack and Noel Butler, and founder Bruce Pascoe. Terry Hayes and Nathan Lygon are two of the five Yuin employees.

Yuin and Boonwurrung man Bruce Pascoe is the founder and has a vision to care for country while returning economic benefits to Indigenous people. Photo: Black Duck Foods.

Yuin and Boonwurrung man Bruce Pascoe is the founder and has a vision to care for country while returning economic benefits to Indigenous people. Photo: Black Duck Foods.

"It's about connection, employment, story, government, community and most importantly, licence - we don't operate without that cultural licence from community," Chris said.

Indigenous-led research is a core value and as seen in Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or accident?, traditional agricultural practices worked in harmony with the land to provide for people, while also maintaining country.

"Outside of the farm we are challenging systemic barriers that are operating in the food sector.

"Essentially, industrialised agricultural systems have relied on having to kill the soil to grow crops from other countries.

"The beauty of natural grain systems is that this country designed them and the soil gives back, keeps you in crop every year, without having to sow anything.

"This supports the insects, birds and biome - it's a great food system, one you don't have to spend much money on," Chris said.

A key element of Black Duck Foods is to provide training and employment for Indigenous people, forming connections to culture which can be shared with younger generations. Photo: Black Duck Foods.

A key element of Black Duck Foods is to provide training and employment for Indigenous people, forming connections to culture which can be shared with younger generations. Photo: Black Duck Foods.

Like any other start-up, Black Duck Foods is working towards the enterprise becoming sustainable and is currently operating at a modest level.

"This is a starting place. We are not just sticking wheat in the ground and growing it," Chris said.

"People underestimate the amount of damage which has been done in Australia.

"Not only were Indigenous people raped, murdered and dispossessed, this applies to the land as well. There is a lot to rediscover, a lot that needs to heal."

Chris said although Black Duck Foods is in early stages of development and not operating at a commercial level yet, he can see there will be benefits for landowners and new opportunities for the wider population to explore.

"This food system represents 65,000 - 100,000 years of history and yet it is called novel! It is a resilient food system which connected the nation, why wouldn't you bring it back?"

Having now grown, harvested and milled native crops, Black Duck Foods also offers scope for regional economic development, an opportunity to reinvigorate the Australian food trail with pre-colonial food systems and land practices.

"You don't have to overtly chase Indigenous culture, you can simply sit at the table and learn from the food. It's a rich, engaging way of understanding what real history is," Chris said.

According to the general manager, nobody has baulked at the idea and the only people challenged by it are those who sell chemicals.

"People who want to eat food that came from country for thousands of years get it and it is definitely appealing to them," Chris said.

"We hope to inspire the broader Australian community to value this knowledge and reform agricultural practices across Australia for the sake of country."

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