Hypothetical / Crop profile: Kara (Burchardia)

Kara is one of the crops I’m considering trying to start up, either at home garden level or at commercial level (the former will be a necessary trial step for the latter). It’s part of my vested interest in climate-suitable and soil-suitable crops for future food security. This is all reasonably hypothetical at this stage, there are a number of hurdles and I don’t know even what all of them are yet, I’m still working through that. But. There are three plants that as a wildflower guide/author I identified in years past as having untapped potential in the bush foods market. Astroloma, the local Dioscorea, and Burchardia which goes by the local name of Kara, or Milkmaids. They each have different problems in reaching market stage, and I opted to go with seeing what I could do with Kara.

There are a few species of Burchardia around the country. That’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because it means the scantily recorded information about indigenous and/or pioneer uses of the plant needs to be sieved carefully to check exactly which plant was being used and what if any treatment methods were needed. But it’s a blessing, because it means there is genetic room to cross species and build good hybrids for crop improvement. Which could also become a curse, if hybrids threaten the genetic safety of local wild populations. So there is a whole lot of room there for investigation and a whole lot of need for investigation. Part of my research at this stage is trying to work out what has already been done, find what needs to be done, and what bureaucratic processes absolutely must be followed on either side of quarantine and ecosystem boundaries.

The next problem is propagation. Burchardia doesn’t have well-established successful propagation techniques yet that I know of. That will be something I need to look into quite carefully, and probably be the focus of my initial work – how to get reliable plants growing and what conditions work best for good crops in one season and then again in the following season. Seeds, root tips, seed tubers, cuttings… something will work, but I need to look at what. Getting propagation material to work with is a hurdle I’ll have to look into too, I haven’t faced that one yet at all but I will. There is seed available for bushland rehabilitation which may be a starting point.

The final problem along the way will be market penetration. I don’t see this as the most important challenge. There is always a market for selling bush food plants to home gardeners, which is a nice fallback if I get through all the previous hurdles. And they are very pretty flowers. However, getting Kara into the vegetable stores does have some challenges. To start with, the tubers are thin, so they don’t fit our cultural ideal of big fat root vegetables. As with salsify, breeding might alter that but no guarantees. Then, there’s teaching people to make food with it. As best as I can tell Kara is reasonably forgiving, it can be eaten raw or roasted so it can be adapted into our existing cuisine with a minimum of fuss. It will take some marketing though. There’s also the question of how much of the information about its use is indigenous cultural intellectual property, and how to handle that. This problem applies to propagation techniques too to a lesser degree.

So, much work to do. I have begun my reading and searching out existing research. I have the advantage of some very good native plant science locii in this state, so I’ll try and use that too once I know what my questions really are.

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