good busi­ness at the right thyme

The last thing Cathy Dick­i­son thought she would be do­ing is turn­ing her gar­den­ing skills into a dried herb busi­ness.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS WORD & IM­AGES HE­LEN FRANCES

The last thing Cathy Dick­i­son thought she would be do­ing is turn­ing her gar­den­ing skills into a dried herb busi­ness.

Cathy Dick­i­son is quick to con­fess she's never been a foodie. But when her body started grum­bling about hard phys­i­cal ef­fort a few years ago, she knew she needed to change di­rec­tion.

These days there are cre­ative food ideas pop­ping out of her head all the time, thanks to her thriv­ing herb gar­den and her busi­ness, called Erb.

It's a big change from her old work­ing life tend­ing plants in other peo­ple's gar­dens, prun­ing roses, and rais­ing Friesian bulls and three chil­dren.

"My body was com­plain­ing as I got older, and I was a bit driven but you've got to pay the bills. Then I was stopped by foot and hip op­er­a­tions. I've been on a jour­ney try­ing to do all this and ad­mit­ting I need a ran­dom bit of help along the way. Wwoofers are good – I bor­row other peo­ple's – and my com­mu­nity net­works are re­ally sup­port­ive.”

Be­com­ing a com­mer­cial herb grower and food pro­ducer wasn't what she saw her­self do­ing, but she has turned it into a thriv­ing busi­ness.

“The ideas are end­less, what you can do with flavours. I like eat­ing things other peo­ple have made, but here I am do­ing it.”

Cathy sells her fresh herbs and a range of salt and dried herb mixes at the River Traders Mar­ket in Whanganui, and takes on­line or­ders. She holds a home mar­ket day

on­line or­ders. She holds a home mar­ket day in De­cem­ber where peo­ple can wan­der around her ex­ten­sive gar­den, have a chat over a cuppa, and buy her prod­ucts and those of other stall­hold­ers.

In the last three years she’s come up with over 20 flavoured salt rubs us­ing dif­fer­ent herb com­bi­na­tions to suit var­i­ous meats and veg­eta­bles. Her most pop­u­lar is a steak rub of sage, thyme, rose­mary, chili and gar­lic. One of the more un­usual is an egg-salt idea hatched out of her daugh­ter’s love of rose­mary and thyme on her eggs.

“I went one step fur­ther and in­vented egg salt with pars­ley and pep­per in it as well. You’ve got to have pep­per on your eggs don’t you? It’s do­ing well be­cause it’s nice on veges and what­ever re­ally. There are end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties with rose­mary and thyme.”

There’s al­ways some­thing new to learn for this long-time herb gar­dener. She found a fen­nel, tar­ragon and pars­ley rub she cre­ated a bit taste­less un­til she put it on snap­per.

“I couldn’t taste the herbs at all but the flavour of the fish was ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful so the herbs must change the flavour of the fish as well as them­selves.”

Cathy’s tip: add the rub to bread­crumbs, then coat the fish.

Last Christ­mas another idea popped up. She added dried or­ange zest to some of the herb and salt prod­ucts to go with gamey meats, seafood and veg­eta­bles. She gave them names and hu­mor­ous, eye-catch­ing la­bels such as Pos­sum, Pukeko (to go with game meats), Eel (fen­nel-based), Shrimp, and Les Legumes (French for veg­eta­bles) which in­cludes lemon­grass, co­rian­der and Viet­namese mint.

She also makes herb-in­fused vine­gars, bread­crumb mix­tures and herbal mixes for peo­ple who don’t use salt.

Cathy’s cot­tage in­dus­try has grown steadily and she wants to keep it that way, mak­ing ev­ery­thing by hand even though it is labour-in­ten­sive. She has come up with some in­ge­nious so­lu­tions such as con­vert­ing an old-fash­ioned cab­i­net clothes dryer to dry the herbs. She lay­ers

Cathy's cot­tage in­dus­try has grown steadily, but she still makes ev­ery­thing by hand

the herbs on wire mesh trays and stacks them one top of the other. When the herbs are dry – it takes about eight hours – she rubs them through a sieve. For tougher herbs like rose­mary, she uses a blender, tak­ing care to re­move any twigs. She then mea­sures the quan­ti­ties, com­bines them with Do­min­ion rock salt and pack­ages them up. The la­bels are printed by a lady at church, her mother lends a hand stick­ing them onto the con­tain­ers, and Cathy's home-made prod­ucts are ready for mar­ket.

Her block used to be part of a 200ha (500 acre) that was in her fam­ily for five gen­er­a­tions. When the ma­jor­ity of the land was sold, Cathy bought the homestead and enough land to make a small busi­ness work.

“Peo­ple said 'why don't you grow plants?' I knew I could grow some­thing on the land but I didn't want rows of pots or a plant nurs­ery. I knew I wanted to work from home, it's such an awe­some en­vi­ron­ment here.”

A cou­ple of op­er­a­tions on one of her feet and a hip re­place­ment meant she had to take con­sid­er­able time off work. That was the im­pe­tus for Cathy to rein­vent her­self and cre­ate Erb.

She al­ready had a solid back­ground in plant mid­wifery, work­ing for a year in a rose nurs­ery when she left school, then gain­ing a Diploma in Hor­ti­cul­ture at Massey Univer­sity. On her OE she did pri­vate gar­den­ing in Eng­land, work­ing in small back yards and in a gar­den cen­tre. Back in New Zealand she drew up gar­den plans for ca­sual clients, did gar­den main­te­nance, and pruned roses for 30 years, all while bring­ing up three chil­dren and rais­ing bulls. She hasn't quite let go

of that. The farmer next door lets her use a shed where she raises around 250 calves ev­ery year.

As she shows you around the gar­den, Cathy does some weed­ing and plants sage seedlings. She has a stylish way of toss­ing the weeds over one shoul­der and of­fer­ing you a bunch of way­ward mint with the other. The earth is full of worms.

There are well-es­tab­lished plants here too: or­chids, roses, camel­lias and rhodo­den­drons planted by her grand­mother, tamar­il­los, babaco, ar­ti­chokes, toma­toes, irises in full bloom, suc­cu­lents grow­ing in a ball. There are ban­tams in an aviary, and wooden bird boxes hang­ing on a fence that Cathy used to make and sell a few years ago.

A shed that used to be an of­fice will soonn be up-and-run­ning as a dry­ing room. Cathyhy is con­vert­ing a large stand-up dryer whichh will al­low her to dry more herbs at once.

This is Cathy’s first ven­ture into busi­nessss and she’s found she can’t stop com­ing up with new ideas. When ten­ants va­cated a self-con­tained dou­ble bed­room flat, part of which used to be her grand­mother’s child­hood school­room, Cathy thought she would give a bed and break­fast a go. Her newly-opened B&B is al­ready prov­ing pop­u­lar.

“Busi­ness-minded peo­ple must think I’m mad. But I’m get­ting more ex­cited now – I feel I’m on the cusp of some­thing." "

this is cathy's first ven­ture into busi­ness and she has found she can't stop com­ing up with new ideas

Cathy har­vests and makes all her prod­ucts by hand. Who: Cathy Dick­i­son What: Dried herb prod­ucts and salt rubs Land: 3.6ha (9 acres) Where: Kaitoke, 10 min­utes east of Whanganui Web: www.erb.co.nz

This page: Cathy grows all her herbs, spray-free, and dries them in her home-made dry­ing unit, made out of an old cab­i­net.

Page 14: Cathy's ev­er­grow­ing range of herb salts and vine­gars are on sale at the lo­cal Whanganui mar­ket ev­ery Satur­day.

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