The Australian Women's Weekly
MARKET GARDEN GLAMOUR
Catherine Velisha kneels in a sea of silverbeet, then strides between rows of plump, white cauliflowers. “It’s a very on-trend vegetable,” she chuckles. And these are perfect specimens, ripe and ready for a vegan roast. Looking east, Catherine can almost see the inner-city supermarkets where her produce is in such high demand. The land where she and her team produce their bounty of vegies is less than an hour from the centre of Melbourne, yet it’s as productive as any growing region in Australia.
Catherine’s grandfather and his brothers arrived from Albania in 1939 and began tilling the rich brown soils of Werribee South. “When war was declared, they supplied vegetables for the Puckapunyal army base and Werribee became a thriving market garden,” she explains. “So I grew up with the whole family involved in horticulture.”
Catherine’s father retired three years ago and she bought the business, which has been both a challenge and an opportunity. She is passionate about upskilling her staff. “Our workforces are multicultural,” she says, “but many businesses don’t have any multicultural leadership. There’s a disconnect there. That’s one of the reasons I want to promote from within. It’s important for management and leadership to represent their actual workforce. There are people who have come here from Africa, Vietnam, India. These people should be in leadership and management.”
She has introduced English classes at Velisha Farms, which has been a massive success.
When Barinder Puri (who was a mechanical engineer back in India) began working on the production line, he had barely a dozen words of English. Today, he’s fluent and has been promoted to production manager. And he’s not alone. Catherine says she’s committed to keep on investing in her staff.
She is also committed to education and is expanding her program, Veg Education, to share skills with the wider horticultural community. Sharing knowledge about safety is one priority and boosting the industry’s marketing skills is another. “People want to see who grows their food,” she says. “I’d like to see us doing more to promote our produce – taking that glamour and power back from celebrity chefs and restaurants, and owning our own contribution.” AWW