Updated Tue 3 Jun 2014, 1:22pm AEST
Cambodian growers are making a significant contribution to horticulture in the Top End of the Northern Territory.
Farmer Muy Keav Ma, still calls herself an ‘apprentice’ when it comes to horticulture, but since arriving in Darwin with her husband and mother, to a vacant bush block 15 years ago, the family has built up a 30-hectare mango farm.
They are part of a small, quiet-achieving community of Cambodian market growers, in Darwin.
The family came to Australia in the 1980s, as refugees from a war-ravaged Cambodia, and spent years running a suburban milk bar in Melbourne, before deciding that their hard work wasn’t paying off.
A family friend who went to Darwin, told Ms Muy Keav’s mother about the lush landscape of Lambells Lagoon, and a different future beckoned.
“We came as a small [group] of refugee people and we had a history of farming, in my parents’ background; they used to grow oranges and some vegies before the war,” she said.
“[Then] my mum heard about Darwin.
Everything we grow, we eat. And then I thought, ‘maybe other people need the same as me’.
Muy Keav Ma, Top End grower
“We wanted a bit of freedom and a bit of the environment, the healthy environment.”
As well as her mango business, Ms Muy Keav has now diversified, with a productive vegetable garden of leafy greens, tropical fruit and Southeast Asian herbs.
At first it was for the family’s own consumption, but they now sell their produce at the Rapid Creek Markets, in Darwin’s northern suburbs.
“Sometimes it’s hard to depend on the mangoes,” she said.
“One year you might have a good year and the other year you might not even break even.
“This stuff, we grow and eat ourselves, so we don’t have to go and buy from the shop.
“And then I thought, ‘maybe other people need the same as me’.
“So that’s why I started growing all these Asian herbs.”
Local tastes are always evolving and Muy Keav enjoys explaining to people how to use herbs common to Cambodian cooking, such as gotu kola (good as an anti-inflammatory, and in soup, she says) and the pungent fish-cheek mint.
She also packages up ginger, galangal, kaffir lime and lemongrass for customers to make their own Kreung, Cambodian curry paste.
No chemical sprays are used on the plants.
Instead, she buys fish carcasses to ferment and makes up her own natural fertiliser.
“I notice so many things happen with chemicals, so I go natural… If I grow it like that for myself, why not for the community?” she said.
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