Okra, heirloom carrots, bitter melon and wax jambu are some of the wonderful diversity of foods you'll find at the farmers' markets. PHOTO: KATE O'NEILL
Okra, heirloom carrots, bitter melon and wax jambu are some of the wonderful diversity of foods you'll find at the farmers' markets. PHOTO: KATE O'NEILL

Help halt plant extinction by mixing up your menu

WHEN was the last time you tried a new food?

We're not talking a new flavour of chips here, or a new brand of biscuits, but a new fruit or vegetable?

Most of us tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to our food choices - we know what we like and we stick to it.

There are some good reasons to mix things up in your diet, though. Not only does it break up the routine and bring a bit of excitement back to your palate, it's also good for your health - increased variety means increased nutrition and a better balance. At the same time, you'll be doing your bit to support some bigger causes, like diversity in agriculture and local food security.

When you consider there are hundreds-of-thousands of varieties of edible plant crops that exist, it's alarming to discover only about 3% of these are cultivated. The world's food supply relies on about 150 plant species. What you see in the fruit and vegetable section of your local supermarket is only a tiny proportion of the huge diversity of plant foods on Earth.

By growing and eating more unusual foods you help save them from disappearing forever, and a trip to your local farmers' market is a great way to discover new foods and help keep local food diversity alive.

Without the pressure to produce huge quantities of one crop, or to grow to supermarket specifications, growers at the farmers' market tend to diversify and experiment with new varieties. They'll often grow old heirlooms, or varieties that are specific to the region we live in, and whose seeds have been passed down through the generations. They can also grow foods that would never make it to supermarket shelves because they don't store well, and would not stand up to the rigours of transport and storage.

For a good introduction to some new and interesting foods and flavours try the following stalls at the New Brighton and Mullumbimby farmers' markets:

Glenyce Creighton: Mullumbimby and New Brighton farmers' markets. There's always something different on Glenyce's stall - bitter melons, loofahs, bread fruit, prickly cucumbers, purple potatoes and more.

Wiccawood Organics (Mullum): Kenrick Riley specialises in hard-to-find Asian leafy greens, vegetables, herbs and spices, including shiso, betel leaf, aibika and celtuce.

Picone Exotics (Mullum and New Brighton): Tyagarah farmer John Picone is the king of weird and wonderful exotic fruits. Jujubes, starfruit, prickly pear, wax jambu and abiu are among the delights you'll find on his stall.

Iona Herbs (Mullum): Third generation farmer Pam Morrow loves growing old heirloom varieties, including purple and white-striped listada eggplant, purple carrots, yacon and beetroots in a rainbow of colours. She also sells her own organic heirloom seedlings.


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