When Sharon Winsor first became involved in the bush foods industry 30 years ago, there was little interest in any native ingredients apart from macadamias.

Nowadays the native food sector — valued at $81.5 million in 2019-20 by Sydney University research — is forecast to grow rapidly and possible double by 2025.

Sharon, a Ngemba Weilwan woman, runs her own business Indigiearth, which produces premium authentic native foods, drinks, ingredients and botanicals from its base in the NSW town of Mudgee.

“I work with lots of other Aboriginal communities across the country, whether it’s assisting wild harvesting, purchasing directly from community or helping to protect intellectual property interests,” she said.

“A lot of our people have been getting ripped off by the big companies and then not knowing what’s happening on the commercial side of the industry.”

Indigenous businesses and learned experts were a major draw for the recent Fine Food Australia trade show at Sydney’s International Convention Centre.

Speaker Clarence Slockee, from horticulture company Jiwah and a presenter on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia program, said it was important for businesses to understand where and how produce is grown for the sake of transparency.

“In the case of bush foods, we need to ask is there a benefit to Aboriginal communities,” he said.

“We also need to understand whether harvesting is impacting plant communities and ecosystems.”

Sharon said positive developments have occurred in the agriculture sector, especially with some commercial cotton farmers supporting Aboriginal women and communities growing native grains.

“The industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars but only 1.5 per cent Aboriginal-owned,” she said.

“I would love nothing more than to see more of my people with products sitting next to mine on the shelves in stores across the country.

“We’ve got over 6000 edible native species in the country so if everyone’s growing what’s traditional to country we’re looking after Mother Earth and everyone gets a piece of the pie.”

Hand of woman holds a Sandalwood Seeds, an Australia bush food eaten by Australian aborigines. Northern Territory. Different and colorful bush seeds on background.

One of Indigiearth’s arms, Warakirri Dining offers a five-course degustation pop-up experience, with diners treated to a traditional dance performance as they eat desserts like Davidson’s plum sorbet or strawberry gum panna cotta.

“I tie in lots of things from the outback to the ocean and you see foods and fruits from the desert right through to the rainforest,” Sharon said.

“For each course I talk about those ingredients and what they mean, where they come from, what they were used for traditionally, medicinally, and how people can embrace them, and support Aboriginal people in the native food industry.”

Other exhibitors at Fine Food Australia included Creative Native, a supplier of native food produce that supports Indigenous growers; shellfish aquaculture company Yumbah, whose philosophy is inspired by traditional Indigenous practices; and The Unexpected Guest founded by Jenny Khan, providers of muesli and snack bars infused with indigenous ingredients.

Government international trade promotion and investment attraction agency, Austrade, featured unique flavours of First Nations producers at their stand, including the Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance and Jala Jala Treats.

Yamatji-Noongar woman Sharon Brindley founded Jala Jala, which offers chocolate made with native ingredients Davidson’s plum, finger lime and wattleseed, as well as six blends of native infused teas.

“I developed my love of cooking and knowledge of indigenous ingredients from my grandmother, one of the Stolen Generations,” she said.

“I love that I’m sharing the excitement kindled in me then, using the same ingredients and flavours in my business.

“I’ve seen first-hand how food plays an integral part in connecting family and people regardless of background, culture or religion.”