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Sharan and Jay West-Rivett • Ovens
It’s hard enough setting up a new business – Sharan and Jay West-Rivett are setting up a whole new industry.
The husband and wife team are the farmers behind the Australian Pumpkin Seed Company, Australia’s first and only producer of pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil.
Since 2002, Sharan and Jay have grown the business to a full supply chain – from growing the pumpkins, manufacture, production, marketing and wholesale. They even provide education about their processes and products at the farm gate.
Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil is a $100 million industry in Slovenia, where Sharan’s family hails from.
“We wanted the oil for ourselves and family stopped visiting and bringing it over, so we had to start making it ourselves,” says Sharan.
The seeds come from a specific, heirloom variety of pumpkin – the Styrian. Styrian pumpkins don’t produce a husk on their seeds, allowing the whole pumpkin to be eaten after being just washed and dried. The lack of processing means the seeds remain dense in nutrients and make an incredibly healthy, nutritious snack.
The seeds are not the pepitas that most people are used to eating, which something Sharan spends a lot of time educating her customers about.
“We care a lot about great quality food. The pepitas that people are eating are all imported from China and they come from pumpkins that produce a husk on their seeds. Pepitas are actually just the kernel of the seeds, so they’re heavily processed, lacking the nutrients of our pumpkin seeds.”
The pumpkin seed oil, with its deep nutty flavour and dark green colour, is used mostly as dressing for salads and vegetables. In Europe it is sold in pill form, as it is beneficial for prostate and urinary tract health, as well as blood pressure.
Educating her customers about the importance of eating healthy is an issue close to Sharan’s heart.
“As a cancer survivor, it’s important to me that the foods that we are producing, and the information we give ensures that healthy diets and living remain front and centre of people’s minds. Pumpkin seeds are part of the variety of foods that make up a great, healthy diet,” Sharan said.
It took a lot of investment to set up the Australian Pumpkin Seed Company and develop the processes to grow and manufacture such a specialised product on Australian soil.
The business accessed government assistance from StepOne to undertake the business planning process, including studying the viability to grow their particular brand of pumpkin up in Ovens.
“This assistance was vital in not only establishing our business, but also helping to expand our operation to what is it today. It also was also crucial to our future success.”
Sharan has recently added a non-profit arm to the business, offering use of the business’ cold-press oil mill to 25 farmers across the country at cost price.
“We’re working primarily with hazelnut and walnut growers. We want to give back as much as possible and look after farmers – and together ensure our continued success,” she says.
“We do think about the business in terms outside of just money making. It’s been a challenge in some respects but we are seeing great benefits through the connections we’ve made to other farmers and makers.”
Jay, who brings experience as an artisan baker and chef, has been able to work with a producer to create Australia’s first hazelnut oil.
“It’s why supporting farmers like this is such a win-win. We’ve got a new product that improves tourism to our farm and highlights the farmer’s product. It’s good for all involved,” said Jay.
It’s that love of their work, and good food, that propels the company and their team.
“It’s important to be self-sustaining but you have to love what you’re doing and share that love,” says Sharan.
“We have a lot of repeat customers because people know we’re passionate about what we do.”