Sarah Heath’s place looks like a typical rural residential property from the street, but out the back you’ll find a hobby farm that proves anything is possible with hard work and determination.
It’s taken six years, but Sarah, her family and some dedicated volunteers have turned a 0.3ha block in Burpengary into a productive space where herbs, lettuces, spinach, mustard greens and edible flowers are flourishing.
The business, Basilea Living Herbs and Edible Flowers, supplies 13 retailers and six cafes and restaurants with seasonal produce.
There are more than 20,000 plants growing using hydroponic and organic methods, and at this time of year 600 plants, 4kg of salad greens and 3kg of edible flowers go out each week. In summer, that number spikes to 800 plants and 8 kg salad greens.
Sarah’s mother started it all when she established a commercial hydroponic farm on a 0.8ha block, also at Burpengary, when she and her five children moved from Melbourne in 2001. At the farms peak, they supplied retailers from Lismore to Noosa North Shore and Sarah helped her mother while working as a nanny part-time.
Unfortunately, drought hit them hard, suppliers disappeared, green grocers started to close and the family decided working with big supermarkets wasn’t for them. Soon after, Sarah’s mother was ready to retire.
“I thought I’d better take this before there’s nothing left, so I bought the farm off mum and moved all the infrastructure here,” she recalls.
“Then I fell pregnant with my third child. The first year of business was really difficult. I couldn’t do what I planned to do.”
Since then, she's been using refined growing techniques to make space as productive as it can be, opening the farm to the public and being selective about the retailers she's supplying, so she can handle demand.
She has also been listening to her clients in determining the direction she wants to take.
“Demand for edible flowers has come from customers,” she says.
And she’s picked up on the public’s desire for education, running workshops, presentations and farm open days.
“My main focus is people being able to buy plants that they can grow themselves,” Sarah explains. “I like the joy of that, and seeing the children in the garden.”
The plants are “living” and sold in small pots, with enough growth so they can be used straight away before being planted in larger pots or a vegie patch for future harvest.
“They taste so good and the nutritional and medical properties to them is really a bonus,” she says. “I’ve got the knack of knowing what the plant will do.”
Her passion for sharing this knowledge will keep driving her business, with plans for more workshops, presentations and stronger community associations.
So, which herbs does she use most? “Garlic chives, rosemary, thyme and turmeric. I make a cheesy mac with turmeric and pepper. I also add turmeric and perennial basil to pizza dough,” she says.
With that, her son Ethen, 10, asks if they can have pizza for dinner.
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