FRESHZEST at Pound Creek is a local success story that continues to grow, providing important jobs, a boost to the local economy and welcome diversity to the agricultural sector of South Gippsland.
Founded by Robert Hayes in the 1980s, in a greenhouse behind the family home at Pound Creek, it has grown into a major culinary herb growing operation on two sites, in Victoria and New South Wales.
So successful has it been, in fact, that the firm is planning significant expansion locally to meet its growing markets.
General Manager Greg Dell says the firm needs to grow.
“We have two sites, at Pound Creek and also at Lismore in New South Wales and between the two we employ just short of 100 people.
“We mostly supply Woolworths and IGA with a broad range of culinary herbs, in pots, as cut herbs, micro herbs and in bulk by the kilo to the hospitality sector.
“We’re not exporting yet but we are close to securing some export markets.
“Herbs were once a specialty food item that has grown into being a staple and we’ve grown with that. The cooking shows and a more sophisticated interest in food preparation has been a big part of the awareness and we’re helping to meet that demand.”
The firm has plans to expand its operations locally, on to a 44 hectare site at Leongatha North, and is presently working its way through the planning processes.
The construction of two new glasshouses there, each one hectare in size, is expected to cost around $8 million.
If the project gets the all clear as expected, the firm will eventually employ a further 30 people.
Freshzest will retain its Pound Creek growing and packaging site but has outgrown the area available there for cultivation.
Work is expected to start on the Leongatha North project in 2017.
Grown hydroponically, the plants are kept in peak growing conditions no matter what the weather is like outside by pumping hot water under the growing beds and by computer controlling the temperature in the hothouses.
Of course on the warner days, the support heating can be backed off, fans used to distribute the heat and the roof opened to maintain a perfect temperature.
The result is perfectly produced herbs, all year round, and a consistent supply for supermarket customers who have become accustomed to getting the ingredients they need for their more creative recipes.
Growing bigger, growing better at Freshzest