Behind Bendigo’s B&B Basil
beStella’s Andrea Byrne meets Susan Young who, with her father George, started microgreen specialist B&B Basil in 2000. The business has grown to employ 40 people and has taken the region’s restaurant scene to the next level. However, what Bendigo sees is only the tip of the iceberg, about 3% of the produce, with 70-80% going to Melbourne and the rest interstate.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I have always loved gardening and food; not just eating it, but creating it as well. Previously I was working in business administration roles as well as in the business, but now I have a young family so I currently work in the business part-time.
2. How did B&B Basil come about?
We started off looking for something to grow that the Victorian market needed and George wanted to get back into hydroponics. We started out with large basil, as most was coming down from Queensland at the time.
We started sending large basil into the Melbourne wholesale market, developing relationships with two wholesalers and some providores that would prove to be very valuable for our future growth. Taking their suggestions on board, we started supplying other lines of herbs and then microgreen started to trend and we just gave it a go. Going out for dinner meeting the chefs and asking them what they wanted became George’s forte and the produce lines grew from there.
3. How has B&B Basil been received in Bendigo?
We have an excellent trade in Bendigo, and the chefs and business owners have embraced our produce and taken dining in Bendigo to a five-star level. We still get many visiting the farm selecting their own pots or just seeing what we have coming up.
Our cut salad mix has also been selling well in the local butchers and retail outlets so you can create at home.
4. What are some of the benefits and challenges you have come across in the business?
That’s a long list really. Over time we have been able to grow and change our varieties quite quickly and fill in our space on the site as it has been needed. The way we are set up in the greenhouses means we can just move a variety of pots around if the conditions are not great in the greenhouse as the weather changes.
We have also tried to have a go at growing most suggestions from our customers if we are able to get the seeds. We don’t have to have large orders for that particular line as we do still hand-seed some of our varieties.
There are not a lot of people entering into the industry, so we have found that we have trained everyone from the start. Even someone who comes to us with farm experience is usually not trained in hydroponics.
5. What are the future aspirations for B&B Basil?
We always try to keep in the current trend, and producing for Australia-wide can help us keep in touch with that. We always try to be less wasteful and always review our systems and quantities as we go through the year.
We have been leaders in our industry for a long time and we endeavour to hold that position. We always want to look at new varieties, whether they are a microgreen, edible flower or tendrils. We look at different blends that we can get out to try help the chef reduce their time and value-add to any dish.
6. What advice do you have for any budding entrepreneur willing to take a leap of faith into business?
You don’t know what is going to be around the corner and you don’t know what you are capable of until you give it a go. Starting small and learning from your wins and losses are part of all businesses. It doesn’t matter if you have been through university or learnt from someone out in the industry, your passion and drive is what you need.
We have never finished growing or changing our business, but we always try to keep on track with what we want to provide to our customer. If they are successful, it makes us successful.
Contributor Andrea Byrne
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