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April 14, 2021

Health crisis leads chef to farming

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Pepe Fassos and his fabulous microgreens and sprouts at the Bangalow Farmers Market.

Pepe Fassos grew up in Athena Taverna – a once-iconic Greek restaurant that thrived in the heart of Byron Bay, in Lawson Street, for 21 years. He was making coffees at the age of five and was a qualified chef at 18. However, years later a twist of fate led him to farming.

‘I had been working as a chef for years and decided to go travelling,’ says Pepe. ‘It really opened my eyes – I loved the way different cultures grew and enjoyed their food. So when I came back to Australia I was inspired to leave the cooking industry and get into food production.’

Pepe’s first foray into farming was on a poultry farm at Casino. It involved fairly large-scale farming, where he was responsible for half a million birds on rotation. After working there for a number of years, two things happened that would change his fate again.

Firstly, he was made redundant and then he discovered he also needed spinal surgery. 

‘My vertebrae were crushed as a result of a number of things – not bending properly at work and not leading a very healthy lifestyle. This was on top of the redundancy. It all happened at the same time and it was a bit of a wake-up call. I realised I had to change my lifestyle.’

And he certainly did – converting a couple of old sheds on his property in South Gundurimba so he could grow microgreens and sprouts.

‘I wanted to grow healthy food and decided on microgreens and sprouts, which are incredibly nutrient-dense superfoods. I knew intensive farming after the chicken farm, and sprouts are also intensive farming. And I was determined they would be soil grown (rather than hydroponic) and I wanted to do it as naturally as possible. So that was initially a massive challenge.’

But the challenge paid off. Pepe’s wide range of microgreens and sprouts are available at the Five Sixty Farms stall at Byron and Bangalow Farmers Markets as well as being supplied to local chefs and restaurants.

‘They used to be quite a niche product and popular mainly with chefs, but more and more people are now aware of them and their health benefits,’ says Pepe. ‘For example, we have a bag of broccoli sprouts, which I consider makes about two serves. Each serve is equivalent to four heads of broccoli.

‘And people now understand that sprouts and microgreens can be more than just a garnish. You can pile them on sandwiches or wraps or add them to smoothies. You can also add them to a stir-fry at the end of cooking.’

Pepe has recently added edible flowers to the Five Sixty Farms range, which have proven hugely popular with customers. 

Byron Farmers Market is held Thursdays 7–11am at the Cavanbah Centre and Bangalow Farmers Market is held Saturdays 7–11am behind the Bangalow Pub. 

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