Paddock To Plate

Growing Lettuce in Gippsland

Matt Moran visits the 'salad bowl' of Victoria, Lindenow, and pays a visit to lettuce farmer Kim Martin. 

Kim Martin has delved into the garden of France and successfully transplanted the French salad green mache rosettes to his backyard on the rich, alluvial river flats of Lindenow, 20km west of Bairnsdale.

·         Kim's passion for the salad green has found him a place in history as Australia's first commercial producer of this most delicate plant. And it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. “I knew bringing mache rosettes to Australia was something that someone was going to do eventually," Kim says. "And I thought I was probably the right person to do it."

·         A third-generation farmer and son of an East Gippsland dairy and horticulture farmer, Kim has spent his entire working life in the vegetable industry, as a farmer and in vegetable processing where he worked with one of Australia's largest fresh-cut vegetable processors.

·         Three years ago, Kim started his own salad processing company, Frais Farms, producing packs of mixed baby salads and ready-to-eat vegetables. Most of his salad ingredients are provided by local growers but it's his own baby, mache rosettes, which is proving the hero in his business.

·         Kim first came across the sweet salad green in Europe in the mid '90s. "I knew back then that it was something that would go well in Australia," Kim says. "We have a similar climate to the major growing areas in Europe, and it has a mild flavour like butterhead lettuce or oakleaf lettuce. It's not a bitter lettuce like an asian green or a coral lettuce and I knew the Australian palate would like it."

·         Once considered a coarse weed, French farmers started cultivating mache rosettes in the 1600s. Today, the salad green, also known as corn salad or lambs lettuce, is as popular in France as the iceberg lettuce is Down Under. It has a mild, nutty flavour and is rich in vitamins A and C plus minerals such as iron and folic acid.

·         Kim set up partnerships with vegetable growers in the region to provide salad ingredients including baby spinach, wild rocket, asian mixes and baby cos.

·         Matt can hand pick multiple types of lettuce and bella verde with owner Kim Martin (in conjunction with organic vegies from Busch Organics).

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