JUST off the Warrego highway, near Gatton, rows upon rows of hydroponic greenery thrive as a young couple walk through the enclosure, inspecting their crop.
Multiple varieties of lettuce, Asian vegetables, herbs and niche products like English spinach are the picture of health as nutrient-controlled water flows seamlessly past their roots through the pipes in which they are nurtured.
The team behind the complex operation may have barely broken into their twenties, but Benny Endicott-Davies and Chelsea Johnston have proven they’re a match for some of the Lockyer Valley’s oldest producers.
After starting a small hydroponic business, H2Grow, almost 12 months ago, the couple are already celebrating signing the lease to their half-acre block for the next ten years.
“A lot of people think we’re crazy,” Benny said.
“Most 21-year-olds are out drinking and mucking around, but we’ve started our lives.”
Harvesting approximately 10,000 units per week, the business sees a four to six week rotation of produce.
Planting in big trays, the seedlings are raised for four weeks before being transferred to individual holes in long pipes that fill the enclosure.
Water is pumped through, recirculated and checked by a computer that ensures there are enough nutrients; automatically adjusting as necessary.
Benny’s passion permeates through his words as he talks about the produce.
“We’ve drawn a few of the worst cards in that we’re incredibly young, we’re new into the market and it’s all hydroponic products,” Benny said.
“There seems to be a stigma around hydroponic, but the product speaks for itself.
“With urban growth we need to try and grow as much as possible on a small amount of land so this is the only way to go.
“Being not reliant on the soil means you produce amazing quality product anywhere – even on your roof if you wanted.”
For this set of green thumbs, it’s taken some solid years of hard work leading up to this point.
Studying a degree in plant science just up the road at the University of Queensland Gatton campus, a private opportunity arose for Benny to work in western Africa on a number of agricultural projects in soil and plant consulting.
It was then his return to Australia to finish his degree and take on a senior role at a local hydroponic farm that propelled his desire to start his own business.
“Because I’d been managing a couple of places around here for a few years, I kind of had an idea of what we needed to start our own,” Benny said.
“I had lots of ideas for how to improve, that I was secretly trying and were working, but nobody would listen to me.
“Nobody wants to see a 20-year-old that’s growing a better product than some guy that’s been growing it for 20 years.”
So when he approached girlfriend Chelsea with his grand plans, she jumped at the chance.
“In the beginning I thought this sounds like a fun project to help him out with and then I fell in love with it,” Chelsea said.
“Most couples go to work to get away from each other but we get to spend every day together,” Benny laughed.
Despite their enthusiasm and proven work ethic, starting a small business at such a young age was an uphill battle.
“Starting off so young we couldn’t get a bank loan, couldn’t get a credit card, we tried to get a business phone but they couldn’t even give us that,” Benny said.
It was their incredibly supportive families that then helped them get their start.
“We presented it pretty well and pretty honest to them,” Chelsea said.
“We’re so lucky that the landlord, John, really helped us out before we got into it; rotating our crops in so we could get a cash flow before the rent started.”
Backed by their early success, the couple said they hope to expand the business and buy their own property in the next couple of years.
So when asked for some advice for any other young entrepreneurs looking to ditch the veggie patch and start their own hydroponic farm, Benny had this to say: “Do your research, both on growing the plants and commercial, and give it a go.”
“If you’re willing to work hard, have saved some money, then the opportunity is there for the taking.”