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Horticulture

Passion for growing key to teen's ag success

Josh Paterson, of Flare Specialty Produce, in his greenhouse.
Josh Paterson, of Flare Specialty Produce, in his greenhouse. Megan Masters

WHILE many of his Year 12 classmates were thinking about next weekend's big party and what university they were going to go to, Josh Paterson was more interested in learning about hydroponics and how to manage a business.

And while many 18-year-olds would find one or two obstacles to their goals a little too much to bother with, Mr Paterson took the ups and downs of business in his stride in order to start Flare Specialty Produce, which has steadily grown since he graduated high school.

The fresh-faced youngster said he was down to a few career selections, but decided to go where his passion took him.

That just happened to be the vegie patch.

"I always had a vegie garden and then when I got a job it grew when I started spending more money on it,” he said.

Josh Paterson with some of his hydroponic growing tables at Flare Specialty Produce.
Josh Paterson with some of his hydroponic growing tables at Flare Specialty Produce. Megan Masters

"I started it all off last year. I had friends on the Sunshine Coast who have hydroponics and I also saw some channels for sale on Gumtree.

"So I did some quick sums and bought eight tables from Blackbutt and off we went.

"Other than that, I was looking at going into the army to do avionics or combat engineering, but probably since Grade 9 I have been looking for a business I could do at school and the vegie garden is what I love.”

He said his trial set-up came with plenty of head-scratching moments and keeping all of the chemicals in the right quantities involved a fair bit of effort and repetitive testing, but the addition of a special automatic chemical adding machine meant he could focus on other things.

He said it was just lucky that his Sunshine Coast friends had one to spare that he could slowly pay off.

An auto-doser was a valuable addition at Flare Specialty Produce, cutting the guesswork out of adding growing chemicals.
An auto-doser was a valuable addition at Flare Specialty Produce, cutting the guesswork out of adding growing chemicals. Local

"You can stuff it up because you're controlling all the elements and if something is a little bit out you know all about it,” Mr Paterson said.

"I got an auto-doser that monitors the nutrients and adjusts them automatically, but with my little trial system I had to do it manually.

"You have to guess how much of this and that to add and then test it again.”

Mr Paterson still lives with his parents on a small block at Umbiram, near Westbrook, but said he was not completely without farming pedigree.

"Mum and Dad bought this place a few years ago but it's only small,” he said.

"Dad's a diesel mechanic and Mum's a hairdresser, but we originally moved here from Zimbabwe, where we had four farms.

"We had tobacco and cattle and we've always been on the land.

"My first time living in a town was here in Queensland and even that was still a couple of acres near Torrington.”

Josh Paterson started Flare Specialty Produce while still in high school.
Josh Paterson started Flare Specialty Produce while still in high school. Megan Masters

He said his family made the decision to leave Zimbabwe due to the daily dangers of life for farmers, some of whom resorted to eating around the dinner table with shotguns in their laps for fear of raids.

As he turned over the idea of working in agriculture, he debated whether to head to the University of Queensland's Gatton campus to study agronomy, but couldn't bear to let his hard work with Flare Specialty Produce go down the gurgler and eventually resolved to keep at it.

He said despite the vagaries of being inexperienced, his age worked to his benefit in other ways, with restaurants and businesses in the district quick to offer their custom to support such an entrepreneurial young man.

"I was just getting the business going and I don't really want to give up now I've put so much work into it,” he said.

"It all started off last year when I got back from a school camp in Maleny and the next day I went back there to look at tables.

"I thought it would be maybe two to three months until I could give up my job working at Donut King but it was a year later that I finished up.

"It was a bit difficult juggling it all and all my money went into it.”

A change in growing mediums improved growing rates and root health for Josh Paterson.
A change in growing mediums improved growing rates and root health for Josh Paterson. Megan Masters

He said things like a sudden cold snap forcing him to buy a green house earlier than expected were among the challenges he surmounted in the past year, but he was back in an expansion stage.

The foundations for a further four hydroponic growing tables were already in the ground and he would be producing two full tables of lettuce a week, some 1000 lettuces, from this week.

Beyond the continued expansion, Mr Paterson said he would continue to find better ways of growing the best produce for the restaurant and market scenes.

"I'll probably just keep trying new things and add new things to the list of what we grow,” he said.

"The wholesalers at Rocklea Markets will buy from me as soon as I have HACCP accreditation and I'll hopefully have that done ASAP and also in partnership with some Sydney companies, I can start something down there if I run out of customers in Brisbane.

"I want to make it more efficient and have bigger production, and maybe one day export through Wellcamp.

"I'd also like to do farm tours with school kids and a school garden program.”

He said most of his own knowledge was gained through watching Youtube tutorial videos, but he would love to be able to pass on his own knowledge first-hand.

Beyond that, much of it was trial and error and gaining a sense of finesse about his growing program, which was very time sensitive because much of it was microgreens that have a very small window of sale.

Part of that was changing his growing medium, which knocked a few days off the production process, as well as learning to manage the greenhouse temperature a bit better.

"I think if it wasn't a passion I wouldn't have got this far,” he said.

"It's not easy starting your own business.”

Topics:  flare specialty produce hydroponics microgreens toowoomba


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