The abundance of potted colour at the Plants Direct stall at the Harvest Launceston Community Famers’ Market is a tribute to the dedication and innovation of nursery(wo)men Karen Brock and Tim Phillips.
It was the cut flower industry that brought this dynamic couple together. Tim started out as a forester before joining the world of wholesale cut flowers. Karen took another route into different parts of the cut flower industry before finding her niche. Today they both work their green fingered magic to nurture from bits of chopped plant tissue, the trees, shrubs, herbs and roses that are finding homes in gardens, orchards and paddocks across the State.
Karen’s domain is the laboratory, while Tim spends his days in the paddocks and greenhouses that straddle the hillsides on their property on the West Tamar.
Karen first noticed Tim when she was working on a cut flowers farm and this “suave and good looking” man arrived at the farm to “tell them what to do”. Tim was in forestry and advising landholders on the planting of windbreaks. Some time later Tim recognised Karen as she got out of her car for an interview for a job where Tim was running a fresh cut flower wholesale business, managing 60 cut flower growers around the State.
Following a relationship break up, Karen moved to Sydney and it was in the hustle and bustle of the cut flower market at Flemington that she honed her negotiating skills and learned the value of trust and a handshake.
After Sydney, it was time to move back to Tassie and she found their current property, an abandoned forestry research station where at one time, eucalypt trees were grown for seed for export. It was a new turning on the path of her life, but the property needed major rehabilitation.
In the meantime, Tim had gone to Europe, working in Holland in the bulb industry, and then to Indonesia until the Asian financial crisis hit the cut flower industry there. Tim returned home to Tasmania, noting that in times of upheaval one always returns to familiar places. Karen and Tim reconnected and according to Karen, “Tim kinda moved in, is still here and has not left.” Tim just smiles.
In the beginning, there was the two them, a hammer, wheelbarrow and a screwdriver that was a “jack of all tools”. From this overgrown forestry site the couple built a nursery farm by starting out with a whole farm plan in 2003 that ensured all the water on the property was reclaimed through careful catchment management.
Apart from starting a nursery business the couple have seven children between them. At first bringing the two families together was a challenge. This they met by going bush, packing food and tents and heading for the mountains as it was there they were all equal. Today, son Chase is an integral part of the business. Propagation is embedded in his system. Starting from about the age of 10, he is as deft as Karen in using the scalpel to quickly chop up the plant tissue that keeps the cycle of life in full swing, from the test tubes in the laboratory to the potting shed and greenhouses.
Tim explains what farmers’ markets means to them. He says that by focusing on farmers’ markets at Launceston and Hobart they can meet directly with customers. It is at the markets that the networks, ideas and plans are nurtured.
Karen and Tim have climbed the hard hills, seen the views and have been plunged back into the valleys. There have been times when projects, such as microgreens had to be abandoned because of events out of their control. By joining the local Harvest Launceston community, they have been able to cut the umbilical cord that tied them to supplying the large retailers and the downward pressure that this put on the farmgate prices for their plants.
Today, with Karen in the lab, her head still brimming with ideas and plants, and Tim in hothouses, they contemplate their future with some trepidation but also lots of excitement at the possibilities on the path ahead of them. For the moment there are plans afoot for pepperberry oil and seed, medicinal herbs for the apothecary market and much more.