IF you’ve ever eaten a locally grown banana, there’s a good chance you’ve been converted for life.
Although they only account for a very small percentage of the Australian market (most bananas are grown in tropical Far North Queensland) – local bananas have a fuller, sweeter flavour than those grown further north.
Neville Singh, a third generation Byron grower whose name is synonymous with great tasting local bananas, says the cooler climate means it takes longer for local bananas to ripen, which allows the sugars to fully develop.
“This area grows really tasty bananas because of the climate – and the soil,” he said.
“When they grow slower they get all the good stuff into them.”
A supplier to local cafes and restaurants, Neville is also a familiar face at the farmers markets and has a legion of loyal customers at his stall at Mullumbimby Farmers Markets.
He grows all kinds of bananas on his Fowlers Lane farm near Byron Bay, not only the popular Cavendish and Lady Finger, but also lesser known varieties like Red Dacca, Ducasse, Plantain and Blue Java – which he is happy to bring extras of to the market when customers ask.
Neville cares about maintaining healthy soil, so he avoids chemicals on the farm, uses natural fertilisers, and mulches heavily with grass clippings and organic waste from the banana plants.
“I was digging out suckers the other day, and we had that many worms coming out of the soil it was unbelievable,” he said.
The heavy mulching also helps the plants endure dry conditions like last year’s drought.
Along with the bananas, Neville grows a small selection of speciality produce popular in Asian cuisine, including bitter melon, a small fruit that looks a little like a lumpy cucumber and is often juiced due to its health benefits for diabetics.
Neville says it also works well in stir fries, or filled with onions and herbs and deep-fried.
“Once I tell people how to cook with it and they got the taste for it they go for it,” he said.
Neville also grows chillies, okra, citrus and a variety of heirloom garlic that has been passed down through his family for more than 40 years.
“Anyone who buys it comes back for it,” he said.