Ancient grain nurtured in Mid Canty soils

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By Toni Williams

Methven grower Andrew Currie among the quinoa trial plants due for harvest in May.

The quinoa, still two months from harvest, is starting to sprout (flowers) which attracts birds.

The ancient grain Quinoa (pronounced keen-waa) is touted as a new superfood but its history stems back to ancient times in South America.

It is successfully grown in New Zealand (in both the North and South Island) but is still imported in large quantities from Bolivia and Peru, as well as Australia.

And that’s something Methven farmer Andrew Currie, and his partner Gaewynn Hood, at Avonmore Farm, on Highway 77, just out of Methven, want to change.

Andrew, the third generation of growers on the property, knows of just three others growing it substantially in New Zealand; two in the North Island and one in the South Island.

Both South Island properties are near Methven.

Andrew, with marketing and on farm help from Gaewynn, has been growing Quinoa for the past seven years.

“It has all the nutrients, fibre, amino acids we need to stay alive,” Andrew says, of the Canterbury Quinoa brand.

It’s also naturally gluten-free (tested and proven), and is not sprayed, bleached, heat treated, irradiated or polished.

Among its traditional grains and herbage seed, the 300 hectare property has grown other ancient grains such as hungarian milit, buckwheat, amaranth and spelt.

But 10 hectares has been set aside for their Canterbury Quinoa product, which guaranteed supply demands.

There is also a one hectare trial Quinoa plot planted in October, and due to be harvested in May.

Andrew says the main Quinoa patch started with just two kilograms of seed which, over time, had grown to provide tonnes of seed.

They didn’t market their product too early as they were still learning from their mistakes.

But can now guarantee supply to their existing customer base and any future customers, whether it be one kilogram or ten tonne.

They supply markets, wholefood outlets, restaurants and co-ops throughout the country and have been included in the Ooooby Box product range.

Locally it’s sold through The Green Grocer in Tinwald, or through the business’ website.

“It’s been a constant learning curve since setting up.”

“It’s difficult to establish, easy to grow and a challenge to harvest.”

“It sprouts (flowers) readily pre-harvest and the birds give it hell.”

Their use of ethical production saw them use natural ways to deter birds by encouraging hawks to patrol the area, harvest and dry product with uncontaminated (or gluten-free) equipment and package in brown paper bags with corn-starch windows.

Quinoa, from the same family as Fathen (a weed), grows to be around two metres tall.

It is drilled, or conventionally planted, and does not have high water requirements.

Andrew says older varieties of Quinoa seed had a saponin coating similar to detergent that tasted bitter so Quinoa had to be washed thoroughly before use.

The newer Quinoa had less saponin and only needed minimal washing.

Quinoa has many uses; in salads, baking, as a breakfast cereal, or ground as a flour.

It was cooked one cup to three cups of water, or used uncooked in baking (which was cooked).

Once cooked the seed opens and expands.

Andrew says the future of Canterbury Quinoa included seeking a distributor and looking into organic certification.