The sweet and the ugly

Spotting a gap in the market and a foray down the path with an ugly but delicious vegetable saw Matt and Ruth Young from Elphin Grove Farm take another chance on a sweeter vegetable, and today Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market goers are treated during the late summer and autumn months to the freshest sweet corn and celeriac.

Two years ago, Matt and Ruth saw a gap in the local market and added some sweet corn to their ongoing experiment with celeriac. The corn was a hit, although there was a mixed bunch of yellow and white colours due to cross pollination.  This year there is fully white, bi-colour and yellow ears of sweet corn with all three having quite different flavour profiles.

As the leaves start to turn and the wonderful autumn colours are on display throughout the State, celeriac also comes into its own. Celeriac has a rough, knobbly leathery skin with a mass of roots and looks more like a root vegetable gone wrong, but beneath the ugly outer skin is the creamy white flesh that tastes of parsley and celery. Above ground it has a top of green, celery-like growth radiating from the central knob, pull this top up and what you unearth looks like a turnip gone wrong.

Celeriac is a perfect non-starch substitute for potatoes. Half a cup contains only 30 calories, no fat and provides an excellent source of dietary fibre. Celeriac is diverse and can be mashed, boiled, french-fried or even grated raw into salad. To prepare simply peel it and keep it in acidulated water until ready to use.

Elphin Grove Farm is a family run business, operating on 220 hectares in East Sassafras near Latrobe. Ian and Lesley Young moved to the property from Bruny Island in 1980 and since then their son Matthew and his wife Ruth have become involved in the business.

With the loss of processing contracts eight years ago, the family started looking at other areas of growth for their business. A local vegetable wholesaler gave them an “ugly turnip looking thing” and told them to try growing it. After a bit of research, a trial patch of celeriac was started. “This meant we had to get seedlings grown and then work out how we were going to plant them. We started with 1,500 plants, they required regular irrigation and fertilisation. As it was a small patch we weeded it by hand.” Today the trial has grown to 50,000 plants and their celeriac is now sold locally and interstate.

The corn is not an entirely new product for the family, as they used to grow it but stopped when food-processing contracts were cancelled and moved offshore. After talking to some local grocers they recognised a gap in the market for local sweet corn, as the majority of what was available locally was from the mainland and up to five days old before reaching shop shelves. “We decided to give it go again.” This time without the pressure of other crops working against them, their corn was a success.

Apart from celeriac and corn, Elphin Grove farms peas for Simplot, poppies for Tasmanian Alkaloids, prime lamb and beef for the local butcher markets. The farm adheres to the Freshcare quality insurance program with a focus on sustainability and profitability.

Ruth and Matt will be at Harvest Launceston this week with their celeriac and corn crops.