I love food. As in, really, really, love it. But not just any old food — fresh, delicious and nutrient-packed goodness that tastes amazing and leaves your body feeling fuelled and nourished. That’s why we believe activity and good eating go hand-in-hand — when you get moving you want to fuel your body with only the best, not have it feeling bogged down and sluggish.
So we were pleased to be invited by Townsville Enterprise on a Paddock to Plate food tour of The Burdekin — our local food bowl that’s seeing national and international companies invest in the region due to its ‘drought-proof’ credentials (the land sits above a vast natural underground aquifer which is replenished with water from the mighty Burdekin River). We were blown away by the sheer variety of what is actually produced right here on our doorstep. Unfortunately, much of it is sent south before it comes back up, but that tide is slowly starting to turn as local producers supply to Townsville direct and we start to reap the rewards of our beautiful North Queensland produce.
Here are some of the places we visited and things we learned that fellow foodies will no doubt appreciate:
Pacific Reef Fisheries — Prawns and Cobia
Burdekin-based business Pacific Reef Fisheries (PRF) produces up to 1,000 tonnes of premium black tiger prawns annually. PRF supplies Coles supermarkets with more than 700 tonnes of this, with the remainder going to southern markets. But the farm’s real growth area is its cobia — PRF is the only company in Australia to farm the fish, currently producing about 100-150 tonne a year, but this will increase dramatically once a second facility a little further south is approved.
The biggest challenge is getting the word out about the quality of cobia (which can only be line caught as nets damage their sensitive skin), but this was helped last year with Pacific Reef Fisheries winning the silver heritage President’s Medal at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show, trumping 5,500 entries. Cobia is currently supplied to Qantas’ first-class passengers and five-star restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane; plus — wait for it — Jam Corner and Ingham Road Seafood in Townsville.
Another interesting aspect of the business is the work its been doing with MBD Energy and James Cook University to develop a bioremediation process to clean pond water at PRF’s Ayr site before it is discharged. MBD’s vision is to create, deploy and lead algae-based technologies and solutions that provide the world with sustainable ways to address the global issues of water, food and energy security. Plus PRF could potentially use the seaweed for food products and to reduce methane in cattle. The power of algae.
Mt Alma Fresh Organics — Assorted Products
Run by a third generation farming family (with Gary and Angela Spotswood’s 16-year-old son Daniel the fourth generation), Mt Alma Fresh Organics is about 20 minutes south of Home Hill at the base of Inkerman Hill. Going through the stringent process to become certified organic producers, the farm yields a huge variety of goodies that are free from chemicals including kale, cabbage, leeks, potatoes, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, celery, spaghetti squash, watermelons, chillies and cauliflower.
The family also grows sugar cane (organic and traditional), produces organic beef and has recently started growing rice with the first yield due by December (for more information see the SunRice section below). With rice production using the same amount of water in four months that cane does in 12 months, the decision of whether to produce two crops a year (instead of just one) will depend on this year’s wet season… or lack of.
For those who have never encountered a spaghetti squash (me included) it’s a revelation for those who can’t, or prefer not to, eat wheat. Just cut it in half, roast it, and then scoop out the spaghetti-like interior. Add a bit of garlic, parsley and olive oil and use it for your next pasta dish without the heaviness of the traditional option.
Spaghetti squash from Mt Alma Fresh Organics will be available at Family Life Organics from October 16. We understand the organic produce is also stocked at Sprout, but please contact Mt Alma directly for all Townsville stockists.
Palm Creek Plantation — Achacha Fruit
Smack bang between Townsville and Ayr (45km from both), Palm Creek Planation is run by Helen and Bruce Hill is the only achacha production site outside the fruit’s original home of Bolivia (yes, there were a few hoops to jump through there). What’s an achacha? Known in Bolivia as the achachairú (meaning honey kiss in Guaraní, a local native language) this highly prized orange-coloured fruit has a tangy and refreshing taste and is often compared to a passionfruit or lychee. You need to pierce the seed to get in, and then eat the pulp.
Comparatively low in sugar, Bruce and Helen have done some fantastic things with achacha, making juices, sorbets (super easy with a Thermomix), cocktails (it’s great added to champagne — a food group in itself!), curries, and even getting a local chef involved who managed to weave it into a whole meal — entree, main and dessert. Check out the website here for some awesome Achacha recipes. The fruit is grown organically on about 16,000 trees at the couple’s farm, which took about seven years to yield fruit.
Locally, you can find achachas at Cotters Markets most weekends, The Precinct Fresh Market in Idalia, Sprout in Hyde Park and Family Life Organics when in season between December and March (check with the farm directly for other stockists), plus Helen said that Juliette’s is looking at stocking an Achacha sorbet in the near future. We were fortunate enough to taste Helen’s and it was delicious.
SunRice — North Queensland Rice
International company SunRice recently invested in the Burdekin, opening a rice mill and packaging plant that will produce the first North Queensland rice later this year for distribution into local and national supermarkets early 2016 as long grain and low GI varieties.
The rice of our region will be a more fragrant variety to what is processed down south and has started with 32 North Queensland farms involved to produce 10,000 tonnes per year, with the aim to reach 20,000 tonnes, then 100,000 tonnes over the next five to 10 years.
In the presentation from Dion Davis from SunRice, he explained that growing the rice up here was about ‘drought-proofing’ the company to offer as much breath as possible in its rice production regions.
The ultimate plan is to export the product out of Townsville’s port to PNG and China. That’s pretty cool.
KFSU — Kfibre
We were also introduced to KFSU, which isn’t a food in a traditional sense, but is described as a “functional food ingredient” derived from fresh sugarcane with the sucrose removed to create a low-sugar high-fibre dietary supplement.
The retail product ‘Kfibre’ helps with digestive health, regularity, reflux/indigestion and diverticulitis, amongst other things, and it’s all from Burdekin sugarcane grown in chemical-free soils. It’s available in local pharmacies and health food stores. More information here.