Southeast Queensland vegetable grower Tommy Le is kicking goals with a new niche variety of continental cucumber.
Tommy’s Tribal Cucumber has taken the retail market by storm, and now the second generation farmer, in partnership with wholesale marketing agents, Franklin Brothers, is expanding to other states.
But it’s what Tommy and wife Lily – who have four boys Brendan, 13, Danny, 10, Aaron, 8, and Calvin, 6 – have done for the Vietnamese farming community in southeast Queensland that is particularly impressive.
“I have grown cucumbers for the last 14 years and I have always challenged myself to improve the product,” Tommy said.
Driven by a search for better taste, shelf life, colour and less wastage, Tommy worked closely with crop protection company Syngenta for better varieties.
Franklin Brothers is providing the marketing and distribution of Tribal Cucumbers.
“The seed cavity of the Tribal Cucumber is smaller, with denser flesh giving it more crunch factor and creating an enhanced flavour,” Tommy said.
“When you buy a cucumber and cut it for a sandwich, the left overs will oxidise.
“The Tribal Cucumber has less seed cavity allowing for less oxidisation.”
The variety hit the market about two years ago and is available in IGA supermarkets and independent retailers.
Rather than going solo, Tommy, a Vietnamese migrant who arrived in Australia as a 14-year-old in 1987 with his family, formed a grower base and currently has about 20 southeast Queensland growers.
He said he was focused on making sure the growers were profitable.
“We are punching out about 50 tonnes per week,” said Tommy, who is also an agronomist with EE Muir and Sons and runs his own business providing technical support and equipment for greenhouses.
“I give them technical support on growing and am working closely with the marketing agent. At the moment we are supplying mainly Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
“My 20 growers in this group are getting 20 per cent premium returns.
“And the response has been great. For the last two years we have had zero rejections.”
Tommy’s unselfish approach to his fellow growers struck a chord at 2016 Syngenta Growth Awards and resulted in the father-of-four taking out the community and people award.
Tommy and Lily’s efforts to assist migrants, new and old, mostly from Vietnam and other parts of southeast Asia, to set up their own small farms and businesses, resonated with the judges.
Their assistance varies from providing equipment to start growing, advice and expertise to help them farm and manage their businesses successfully.
“When the Syngenta reps tried to nominate me I said I’ll give it a try but once it was up on the Internet and I read other profiles, I thought I would have no chance but would go for the experience,” Tommy said.
“I was stoked.
“It means for the last 14 years helping other growers, all my hard work is rewarded.
“Someone is paying me back.
“Australia accepted me to live here and I have always considered it a second chance in life.
“I will do my best to return the favour to the country that supported me.”
Tommy doesn’t see other growers as competitors.
“I don’t see myself as a grower in competition to other growers,” Tommy said.
“I think about sharing knowledge as a community or an industry.”
- Lea Coghlan traveled to Europe recently as a guest of Syngenta