Sold on seedlings
Meet the boss woman behind Westview Gardens Seedlings
When Stacey Hamblin worked on a cutting horse ranch in Texas, she was always in the saddle and a high-top boot line was imprinted in her calf muscles from the long hours spent on the job.
Now she’s shifted from saddles to seedlings, but the strong work ethic – and the iconic big hat – remain part of Stacey’s modus operandi.
Stacey, 33, is managing director of Westview Gardens Seedlings at Wyreema, a company she has run commercially as a seven day a week operation for the last four years.
Her team grows 10 million plants to order annually, servicing the Darling Downs, Lockyer Valley and parts of the Scenic Rim.
Across seven nurseries, they grow iceberg, cos, single leaf, silverbeet, red cabbage, sugarloaf, drumhead, wombok, red kale, green kale, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, beetroot, tomato, capsicum, chilli, zucchini, squash and fennel seedlings.
Stacey grows for producers who supply through major chains including Woolworths, Coles and McDonalds, and she has this year expanded further into farms throughout the Granite Belt.
Stacey is the third generation of Hamblin horticulturalists.
Her family has been growing vegetables since her grandfather Desley Hamblin, now 85, left his job as a gravedigger in Leyburn to establish what became Westview Gardens 60-odd years ago.
She fondly remembers playing on the harvest aids as a kid when they were harvesting celery and riding on the back of a two-wheel motorbike with her dad while he was crop checking.
If Stacey is ever having a tough day, her grandmother Alma Hamblin loves to remind her of the backbreaking work they used to do in the beginning, before things became so mechanised.
“Grandma always tells the story that she seeded them straight into the ground and then, with a shovel, you’d dig up the seedlings and grandma would walk in front and place the seedlings on the bed and dad or grandad would follow and transplant,” she said.
“So, when I’m saying my day’s tough, that’s how she reminds me of how it was.”
Stacey faces the usual challenges of working in agriculture, of course. She grapples with rising electricity prices, the issues around relying on water for dryland farming – either getting too much rain or not enough – and the damage from major weather events.
As with anyone running a farm business, keeping up with industrial relations is also a key challenge, and Stacey keeps up to date through her Growcom membership and by drawing on the expertise of IR professionals like Donna Mogg.
“I want to do the right thing whether it’s supplying quality seedlings or the right thing within the business structure or staffing,” she said.
Because seedling production happens year-round, Stacey is well-positioned to employ her staff on a more permanent basis and doesn’t have to rely on a seasonal workforce.
She operates with two long-term full-time staff and a few casuals and recently grew the business enough to take on an extra full-time wage.
She recruited close to home, welcoming her husband Tim Hartshorn to the team.
Tim, a diesel fitter by trade, left the job he’s done for the last 15 years to learn the Managing Director ropes from his wife so he can hold down the fort when they decide to have kids.
He also brings to the business his skills for redesigning and customising racking systems, pipework and machinery and, through his experience as a supervisor, writing maintenance programs.
Tim, who started officially working for Westview Gardens Seedlings five days before he and Stacey tied the knot in mid-October, knows all too well the constant demands of the seedlings game.
“It’s 12 months of the year, every day of the year – someone is here seven days a week,” he said.
“When they’re ready to plant their summer season, Stacey’s already had it in the nursery eight weeks prior, which is in the middle of winter. The numbers may change a bit but it’s always going.
“I’ve been here with Stacey weekends and public holidays for the last two years. At times like Christmas and Easter and all those other fun days when people love to go away, the seedlings still need to be taken care of.”
Tim has a well-founded respect for his wife’s ability to hold her own as a farm business manager in what is still widely considered a male-dominated industry.
“Stacey knows her product very well, and if a customer has a query, she’ll know the answer on the spot,” he said.
“She’s factual about things and she’s up front and honest.”
Stacey said it was also a matter of being understanding, resilient and flexible.
“You can’t take things to heart – I’ve had to put my big girl pants on,” she said.
Managing a farm business and being responsible for the nurturing and safe dispatch of seedlings 365 days of the year might be tiring at times, but Stacey would not have it any other way.
Even after a long day of sowing seeds, overseeing dispatches, managing staff, liaising with customers and plugging away at the never-ending stream of paperwork, there is nowhere Stacey would rather be than with her plants.
“No day is the same. I love the challenges that go with growing seedlings, and it’s rewarding when you see the product of your hard work,” she said.
“I came back to horticulture because of the opportunities, like the opportunity to start my own business, to expand and to meet like-minded people.
“As a little girl, my grandparents would pull their hair out because they’d have roses in which were just about to bloom and I’d come along and pull the flowers off and I’d constantly be rummaging through their gardens, tinkering with plants.
“I always enjoyed playing with plants, and I still enjoy playing with them but just on a larger scale now.”
Stacey Hamblin featured in the November 2017 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.
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By Susie Cunningham