Costa visits Rita Kelman’s 2ha production farm that grows exotic Asian herbs and vegies in the Sydney basin. Sadly small scale agriculture like Rita’s farm is under threat from urban expansion, which would be a disaster because these boutique and passionate growers form an integral part of feeding the nation’s cities.
Rita came to Australia in 1986 from Shenzhen in China and she married her husband George in 1989 and the couple have two children.
Rita picks produce and takes it to the markets the following day so it’s really fresh. She decided about two years ago to grow chemical free vegetables. “They have good taste. Chemical free is good for the people and health and also good for the environment, and for the air around this area,” Rita says.
Although market gardens take a lot of work and dedication, Rita seems to be thriving on it. “I wake up at 6am, and I work until midnight, but I don’t feel tired ... so that is what I say, the farmer look at the plant and that is the best medicine for you,” she says.
Rita often has customers ask her to grow more rare and obscure varieties that they normally cannot find. Italian and Maltese customers have asked her to grow round zucchini and even ochra which Indians love to use in curry dishes.
Rita’s grows a huge variety of asian vegetables seasonally including: Chinese broccoli (Kai-lan, Gai Lan, Chinese kale), Chinese spinach (en choy, Amaranthus tricolour, Amaranth), Chinese basil, Vietnamese mint (Persicaria odorata, Vietnamese coriander), Thai basil, lemon basil, Malabar spinach (Basella alba), water spinach (kang kong, Ipomoea aquatica), watercress, bitter melon (fu qua), choy sum (Brassica rapa subsp. parachinensis), pak choy (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis, sometimes called baby buk choy), mustard green (Brassica juncea), gai choy (Brassica juncea), goji berry (wolfberry) and coriander.
Other vegies Rita grows include: kale (different varieties including Russian, Scottish, Redbor), cavolo nero (Tuscan cabbage), pumpkins, cucumber, tomatoes, round zucchini (‘rondo’), asparagus, sweet basil, eggplant (different varieties including black beauty, purple, white, baby, black), cucumber, capsicum, basil, mint, okra and strawberries.
• Chinese spinach is high in iron and antioxidants and can be eaten either boiled or stir-fried. It takes about a month to grow before it’s ready for harvest. Just cut the stems from the bottom and within two weeks it should re-grow.
• Bitter melons increase in bitterness as they mature, so they are better eaten when they are firm and not fully ripe. They’re easy to cook and grow. They resemble a cucumber in growth habit and should be staked to keep the maturing vegetable off the ground.
• Watercress is one of the non-Asian vegetables that Rita grows and it’s really easy to plant at home. Rita has planted her watercress in a depression, where it’s damp and the watercress is thriving. Its peppery taste is ideal for spinach pies, salad or even in a soup.
Rita’s Super Soil Recipe:
Mix 1 part mushroom compost, 1 part chicken manure and 1 part soil from the farm.
Rita reckons this gives the plants all the nutrition they need to thrive.
Rita and George sell Rita’s great produce at various framers markets around Sydney:
Friday at Wollongong Produce and Creative Markets
Saturday at Warwick Farm Trackside Market (Rita)
Saturday at King’s Cross Organic Food Market (George)
Sunday at King’s Cross Organic Food Market (George)
To find a farmer’s market near you visit tradewatch.org.au/localfood/
For a variety of Asian and leafy green vegetable and herb seedlings:
220 Eigth Ave
Austral NSW 2179
Contact Rosa and Vince
Ph 02 96068410