A profile of "Mr. Organics" Ben Debs, certified organic food industry consultant and certification support specialist.
Benjamin Debs was born in Cowra in 1965, and raised in the rural centre of Young, New South Wales, where he gained an extensive education in horticulture, including pruning and orchard management, with a particular focus on stone fruits.
Ben became interested in organic food 30 years ago when he travelled to the newly established counter-culture centre of Nimbin, full of ideals and inspiration, seeking an alternative, healthier lifestyle. When he wanted to feed his young children pure safe "organically grown" food, free of pesticides and artificial additives, he discovered it was very difficult to source reliable organic supplies, and it was not long before he began growing, and then later selling organic food, on a grass roots level, feeding his children home grown organic food and supplying friends with his surplus.
Through this early foray into selling his surplus organic food, he discovered a passion, drive and a business acument and he started purchasing produce direct from farmers, and selling into new markets, including fruit and veggie shops, food stalls, cafes, and restaurants.
In 1998 at age 25, intent on developing a lifestyle based around his passion for organic food, Ben purchased a run down farm in Tasmania, where he began to apply organic farming principles and improving the soil. Before long he was growing snow peas, carrots, potatoes, and garlic commercially.
ORGANIC ISLE PRODUCE, DELORAINE TASMANIA
With a continuig passionate desire to bring up his young family on pure organic food, Ben discovered seemingly insurmountable obstacles to obtaining organics locally, because of Tasmania’s strict quarantine laws. Always an innovator and creative thinker, the next step in Ben’s evolution was to set up Tasmania’s certified organic produce wholesaler Organic Isle Produce in Deloraine, with a mission to find a way to make the best in mainland organic food available to the people of Tasmania.
Faced with complicated procedures for importing food and the constant threat of chemical fumigation, the local organics industry was still fixed in the perception that buying from mainland organic farmers and importing organic food into Tasmania simply could not be done. With persistence, research and an innovative approach, Ben gradually overcame the administrative barriers, painstakingly convincing mainland individual farmers to gain certified clearance from such pests as fruit fly, and melon thrip, certified proof of which were required by AQIS Tasmania.
The success of his methods brought Ben industry notoriety and considerable media attention in Tasmania, and having built the business into a thriving enterprise, Ben sold Organic Isle Produce to Gary Norris in 2010.
EAST WEST ORGANICS
The natural progression from the Tasmanian experience was to initiate and develop the first dynamic model for the importing of organic food into Australia from overseas markets. East West Organics was Ben’s new national vehicle for importing the very first containers of certified organic dried fruit from Turkey, using the same skills developed as Organic Isle, achieving another “Australian first”. This was always done in harmony with Australian farmers, to ensure they were protected, based on a policy of importing only what Australia could not provide.
Ben also set up Sydney-based fresh and dried organic food wholesaler Pacific Organics which was later sold to Cameron Gough.
AUSTRALIAN ORGANIC NETWORK P/L
In 2013 Ben set up Australian Organic Network, the latest step in the evolution of his vision for organics in Australia. Bringing together a dynamic team of marketing, certification and farming professionals, and providing a synthesis of all Ben’s years of experience in the organic food chain, Ben has linked together his extensive network of organic farmers, his expertise with importing certified organic food into Australia, and his personal flair for promotion and marketing, to build a cutting edge organics company able to offer the widest range of organic food at the best prices, that offers a more personal and passion-driven alternative to the large corporate players that have traditionally dominated the Australian organics market.
Ben has been acknowledged for his remarkable "rags to riches" story by being featured on a major national current affairs television programme and achieving widespread press coverage.
In the thirty years since those humble beginnings and early successes, Ben has worked in every aspect of the organic food industry.
Always an innovator who thinks outside the box, and with a drive that frequently finds him attempting the supposedly impossible - Ben is a solutions oriented thinker and can help you understand the complexities of the certication process, plan for your transition and get across the challenging certication paperwork and build a realistic certification plan. Realising the challenges facing people new to the certified organic food industry, and having constantly advised people pro bono, Ben has now created Certified Organic Solutions. Firmly based on the belief that organics is important for our individual health and a sustainable future for the planet, it is a business specifically designed to support people at the transition into certification.
Ben has assisted a wide range of individuals and businesses in entering the certified organics industry. Companies he has assisted include Green Grove Organics, Junnee, with involvement in initial set up and he has also worked as food and ingredient specialist in assisting organic manufacturer Whisk and Pin with manufactured organic product development.
Certified Organic Solutions has recently made a huge innovative leap by entering into a unique relationship with Lismore City Council in the Northern Rivers region of far north NSW, and has now begun the process of aiding in a "national first" programme to make the green waste produced by the "state of the art" recycling department of Lismore City Waste and Recycling Centre into a "certified organic" operation, which will ultimately allow organic farmers access to a whole new avenue of supply for much needed certified organic mulch and compost that can be safely brought into the certified organic growing cycle by having accredited "certified" status on the recycled waste.
If you have a conventional farm and would like to make the transition into the certified organic produce industry, or you produce a valued added manufactured organic food product, or would like to bring green waste, organic fertilizers and mulches to the rapidly growing certified organic market, then talk to Ben and get some practical, experienced advice on how to make this dream a commercial reality.