The Hobart

It All Stems From Mustard

by Ollie Benson
It All Stems From Mustard

Tucked in a pocket of southern Tasmania are two farmers whose approach to running a farming business is as interesting as the diverse range of vegetables they grow.

Grace Gammage and Dylan Lehmann run Broom and Brine, a market garden at Allens Rivulet. They supply 75 weekly boxes of vegetables to families and restaurants on just a quarter of an acre, and with a waiting list of 200 customers it’s clear their produce is in high demand. Grace and Dylan operate a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. With origins in Japan and the USA, CSA is a subscription model of farming that connects the farmers directly with eaters, with customers buying ‘shares’ in a farm’s projected harvest. This allows both parties to share the costs, risks, and bounties, enabling greater financial security for the farmer and a deeper connection with their customers.

Each week, Broom and Brine’s CSA boxes are made up of seven different vegetables. Throughout the year these can range from familiar produce such as carrots, celery, tomatoes, and radishes to Italian heritage varieties of radicchio and chicory, such as puntarelle and catalogna. They also grow vegetables with Asian origins, such as wosun, daikon, a mustard green known as gai choi in China or kekkyu takana in Japan, and oka hijiki, which translates as land seaweed. One of the most incredible looking vegetables that will be included in Broom and Brine CSA boxes during the month of May is Tsa Tsai, or stem mustard. Stem mustard hails from south-west China. As the plant matures the stems swell and form thick fist size bulbs below the petioles (the stalks that attach leaves to the main stem). While the leaves can be used like other Asian greens in soups and stir-fries, the swollen stem offers more interest. It can be peeled and served raw in salads, stewed, or pickled and turned into cha tsai, a Chinese pickle similar to kimchi.

Mustard stem. Pic: Grace Gammage

It took Grace and Dylan months to find mustard stem seed, and multiple failed successions to find the right timing to grow them. As Grace gleefully explained, “I think these wonderful plants need the winter to bulb up. They look like regular mustard for most of their growing period, with big wide shiny leaves. And then boom, they all began to bulge, and Dylan and I pretty much danced around the garden.”

Asia, and Japan in particular, has been a major influence for both Grace and Dylan. Both are inspired by lean thinking and methods, the roots of which can be found in Japanese manufacturing techniques, especially from those employed by Toyota.

Through continuous consideration of their business and intentionally setting aside time to work on housekeeping practices (known as 5S – Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain) they have been able to increase productivity while reducing their workload. Over the last 12 months they have been able to increase the number of CSA members from 50 to 75, yet remarkably they have done this in less hours per week.

So, while the stems of their mustard greens might be swelling, so to the number of customers they feed, their workload most certainly is not.


CHINESE STEM MUSTARD SALAD

Mustard salad

Ingredients:

300g Tsa Tsai (stem mustard)

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoons of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of sugar

Small bunch of coriander

Method: Wash the stem mustard, then cut into thin slices. Add the salt, sugar, soy sauce, and coriander. Stir, cover and leave to lightly pickle in the fridge for at least two hours, preferably overnight. Serve with noodles, dumplings or rice.

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May 2024

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