A fighting spirit … and great networks

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Five Sixty Farms

South Gundurimba, NSW

A fighting spirit … and great networks

Stranded on the roof of his house with his wife and their eight children, Pepe Fassos watched helplessly as his beloved greenhouses smashed and floated away in a tsunami of floodwater. 

The family was safe but their idyllic farm at South Gundurimba, on the outskirts of Lismore, was unrecognisable after the devastating February flood.

“It was pure destruction,” Pepe says. “I was numb. We had lost everything.”

But Pepe had not lost his fighting spirit.

While he admits he battled depression in the following months, he sought counselling and the adrenaline kicked in. He got on with the job of rebuilding Five Sixty Farms and the business he had lovingly nurtured over the previous five years.

After all, it wasn’t the first time Pepe had been struck down by adversity.

“Before I started my microgreens business, I’d just had major spinal surgery, I had $5000 to my name, eight kids to feed, and a mortgage to pay,” he says.

“I have a background as a chef, raised by a Greek father who taught me to grow food organically. When I discovered microgreens in 2017, I started creating products that I knew would work for chefs.

“The first business to support me was La Baracca and Steve Krieg, who’s now the mayor of Lismore. I took him some samples and the rest is history.

“After three years my accountant said, ‘you’d better register for GST’. The business had grown beautifully – we had nailed it. We went through the nightmare of Covid, but I’ve had my team around me, my family. It’s mostly been myself, my wife Jacqui and the kids, and we’re closer than ever.”

“I’ve been able to set everything up exactly as I’ve always wanted it, using the knowledge I’ve gained over five years”

Fast forward another two years and Five Sixty Farms’ turnover had doubled. 

Pepe was supplying microgreens and edible flowers to prestigious restaurants such as Harvest and Raes on Wategos. Chefs sought him out at the Northern Rivers’ farmers markets. He had a huge waiting list and big plans for the future. 

The flood may have been a setback, but Pepe is the type of person who always looks for the silver lining. He found new opportunities amongst the rubble. 

“I don’t give up easily; I am pretty stubborn and I work hard,” Pepe explains.

“But there are some people I’d really like to thank for helping give us the push to get going again – Ash Ordish from Platter Me Beautiful, Nimbin Valley Dairy and Richard Kerr from The Loft. We’ve also had so much amazing support from our customers and friends.

“And because of the flood, because of that support, I’ve expanded from 86sqm of greenhouse space to 380sqm.

“I feel I have a better grip on things. I’ve been able to set everything up exactly as I’ve always wanted it, using the knowledge I’ve gained over five years.

“We’re about to become a certified organic farm, which has been a big dream of mine. We’ll also have our HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, a high-level food safety program), which means our supply options open up.

“Five Sixty Farms will have the largest range of certified organic microgreens. I am so proud of that.”

Pepe would love to see his products stocked on supermarket shelves across the nation, proudly displaying the Lismore and Northern Rivers branding.  

He’s also developing broccoli microgreen dehydrated powders, which would be put into capsules and taken for the health benefits.

“That’s what I’m working on at the moment and I feel like that is a stable industry for us to focus on,” he explains.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about future floods. I am worried about our climate. But I do have goals and a vision for Five Sixty Farms and I know I will achieve it, if I’m allowed by nature.” 

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