A plan to create jobs and make the Wimmera a leader in the growing Indigenous bush foods industry has received a funding boost.
Wail nursery, which sells plants and seeds native to the region, has just received $135,000 under the Djakitjuk Djanga (Country's food) program to put towards and upgrade to increase native food plant production.
Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation owns and operates the nursery. Acting chief executive Tim McCartney said it would use the money to improve the irrigation system.
"We've started the work already, and we'd expect it to be done in the next six months," he said.
"We've got expressions of interest out there for two Wotjobaluk Traditional Owners to fill additional positions to support the training and development and long-term of goal of the nursery to provide a strong economic income source to support further employment of our community members.
"We will also use he funding to support a Traditional Owner to be employed there on an apprenticeship to complete their qualification in production nursery."
Mr McCartney said native foods grown in the region included wattleseed, saltbush, native thyme, chocolate lilies and the potato-like murnong.
He said these had long been a source of nourishment and trade for the Wotjobaluk Nations, and BGLC wanted to re-establish this link to country.
"We are on the path to be growing more native species through our seed bank to create a pathway to food manufacturing on-country," he said.
"We are looking at mixing them into modern contemporary foods and dry mixes. The demand nationally and internationally for authentic Traditional Owner foods is there, but it is far outweighing the supply at the moment."
Mr McCartney is also the national chairperson of the First Nations Bushfood and Botanical Alliance. He said the industry was set to grow by up to six times its current size in the next decade, but only two per cent of it was controlled by Aboriginal people.
"It is certainly a big passion of mine to see the region and the Wotjobaluk people take a lead in the region around this," he said. "It's a long-term approach and the nursery is fundamental to that: To have ownership over the property and the product, to teach the knowledge and put more endemic species back into the country is crucial."
The funding program is jointly administered by Agriculture Victoria and the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations.
FVTOC's manager of natural resource management and economic development Bruce Gorring said growing Victoria's native food industry could help the state's ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's an industry that theoretically has been in existence for 60,000 years. What we're trying to do is position it within our current economic framework to ensure we can capture some of the wonderful innovation that's already occurring," he said.
"The investment through Djakitjuk Djanga will stimulate local economies, not just through jobs and infrastructure construction but through what's being produced to sell, either at the farm gate or in local markets and supply chains."
Mr Gorring said native grains such as kangaroo grass were good examples of local plants that could be used commercially.
"I don't know if many farmers have contemplated the potential to diversify their properties into native species, and therein lies the opportunity for new relationships to be formed between Traditional Owners and rural industries," he said.
Wail Nursery also provides contract growing and advice on revegetation.
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