FROM WAR ZONES TO HY­DRO­PONIC LIV­ING

Wardell busi­ness oper­a­tors Gra­ham and Fiona Grant’s ex­plo­sive story

Central and North Burnett Times - - HORTICULTURE - Jamie Brown jamie.brown@north­ern­star.com.au

MANY years work­ing in a va­ri­ety of war zones has given hy­dro­ponic let­tuce grow­ers Gra­ham and Fiona Grant an ex­cel­lent in­sight into run­ning a fi­nan­cially vi­able farm.

It may seem like overly harsh ground­ing, but the duo is sure the time spent dodg­ing bul­lets and dig­ging up land mines from Kosovo to Kabul helped them cre­ate the right sys­tems for fi­nan­cial and prac­ti­cal man­age­ment in the green­house.

As the own­ers of highly suc­cess­ful Wardell Hy­dro­ponic Let­tuce, to an out­sider it would seem English-born Fiona and South African-born Gra­ham have long had their boots in the mud. In­deed, the pair came to let­tuce by way of macadamias – but be­fore that, they toured the world in a va­ri­ety of roles for the United Na­tions.

The daugh­ter of a UN agron­o­mist, Fiona be­came a char­tered ac­coun­tant and of­fered her ser­vices in bud­getary con­trol, while liv­ing in Jordan and work­ing with refugees. She says she be­came used to the stac­cato sound of ma­chine gun fire as she nod­ded off to sleep.

Gra­ham learnt to dis­arm ex­plo­sives while in the South African army – a stint in the Balkans at the end of the Bos­nia-Herze­gov­ina con­flict saw him re­move hun­dreds of un­ex­ploded bombs from gar­dens, school­yards and homes. He of­ten worked in the field with just a trans­la­tor and a strong in­stinct.

For Gra­ham, who continues to use his war­time skills – like think­ing on his feet, ap­proach­ing dan­ger from a safe av­enue, cal­cu­lat­ing risk and re­ward – run­ning the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of a hy­dro­ponic farm re­quires an iden­ti­cal skill set. While Gra­ham was dig­ging up mines, Fiona was work­ing to help tran­si­tion the war-torn coun­try to a demo­cratic govern­ment,

If we muck up here, we can’t just walk away. It puts a to­tally dif­fer­ent (light) on how you treat money.

GRA­HAM GRANT

writ­ing fi­nance leg­is­la­tion and deal­ing with other civil­ian as­pects of the peace ac­cord.

Af­ter Bos­nia, Gra­ham found em­ploy­ment clear­ing mines in Kosovo and then in Afghanistan, be­fore the cou­ple moved to a more peace­ful ex­is­tence in the NSW North­ern Rivers.

They were nearly ready to tackle an­other big project – but de­cided first to pur­sue a mas­ter’s de­gree in project man­age­ment.

“We did it to­gether and it was great fun,” re­called Fiona.

To­day the cou­ple works from a small, re­lo­cat­able site-of­fice on the pe­riph­ery of the Wardell farm, man­ag­ing a steady flow of let­tuce, pac choy and kale into the Coles Bris­bane dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre.

“We were look­ing for some­thing to sink our teeth into,” Fiona said.

While the farm has pro­vided that project, Gra­ham does note that spend­ing aid money is very dif­fer­ent to spend­ing “your own”.

“If we muck up here, we can’t just walk away,” he says. “It puts a to­tally dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on how you treat money.”

Fiona points out by work­ing as a team, this dy­namic duo was able to achieve “tremen­dous re­sults”. And when deal­ing with banks, the team ef­fort was worth dou­ble.

“When in­volved with lend­ing, there is a lot more con­fi­dence from the banks when two people are mak­ing the de­ci­sions,” she said.

Of course, it makes a dif­fer­ence when those de­ci­sions are backed by data.

“When we ap­ply for a loan, we pro­vide fi­nan­cial reporting,” she said.

“And banks take com­fort from the knowl­edge that their money is be­ing man­aged in a way that is con­sis­tent with the pol­icy of the farm. A lot of people don’t know how to talk to lend­ing in­sti­tu­tions.

“Banks and farm­ers of­ten do not talk the same lan­guage and I find that ter­ri­bly sad.”

PHOTO: JAMIE BROWN

UNITED FARM­ERS: Gra­ham and Fiona Grant, of Wardell Hy­dro­ponic Let­tuce, have used their ex­pe­ri­ences in war zones to run a suc­cess­ful farm­ing ven­ture.

PHOTO: PATRICK GORBUNOVS

WHAT A CROP: Gra­ham Grant at the East Wardell farm.

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