The Australian Women's Weekly



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

 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia