Interview - Bronwyn Blake - Vasse Valley
Hemp seeds are ‘the new black’. The folks at Vasse Valley Hemp Farm are right across this wonderful food, from growing the seeds on their own farm to packaging and distributing the ready-to-use products. We talked to Dr Bronwyn Blake, the company’s owner and CEO and learned lots about hemp’s nutritional value and how it can be utilised in the contemporary diet.
FFW: Who is behind Vasse Valley?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: At the moment, just myself and my husband Chris. I’d like to say our boys help but the youngest has only just learned to crawl! We are a small, family-run business and we do everything ourselves, from growing the plants to packaging the finished product.
FFW: Do you grow your own hemp seeds?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Yes, we have been growing hemp since 2015 and have never looked back. Hemp is such an amazing, versatile plant and the seed is so nutritious. Wherever possible we farm using organic practices. We are spray-free and use natural fertilisers like composted manure and legumes.
FFW: Where is your farm located?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: In the beautiful Margaret River wine region in Western Australia. Our closest town is Vasse and our farm is divided by the Carbunup River, hence the name Vasse Valley.
FFW: Are the hemp seeds GMO?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: No, I don’t even think GMO hemp exists yet! It is also easy to grow without the use of chemical sprays so is generally free of contaminants.
FFW: What products do you offer?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: There are currently four products in our roasted hemp seed range, which are entirely unique to Vasse Valley. Our core product is our Crumble, which is 100% ground, roasted hemp seed. Nothing added, nothing taken away. It adds a great nutty flavour and crunchy texture to a wide array of foods, from savoury to sweet. Our other products stem from our Crumble. I’d have to say our best seller so far is our dukkah; we’ve had many a customer return hailing it the best they’ve ever tried and asking to buy it by the kilo!
FFW: What makes your hemp seed foods so special?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: There are three main things that set us apart from other hemp food manufacturers. Number one is we are paddock-to-plate, which means we maintain control over every process in our product line. This way we can ensure our clients are getting a quality product. Number two is that unlike most hemp seed products, which have been dehulled or pressed for oil, our products use the entire hemp seed, giving you its full nutritional benefit. Number three is our specialised processing technique, which includes roasting and grinding to bring out and then intensify the hemp seeds’ full and delicious flavour, making it a great and natural way to add flavour to your food. There are many hemp food businesses popping up around the place, but none offer anything quite as unique and special as Vasse Valley does.
FFW: Will you be adding any other products to your range?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Actually yes, we are launching a Hemp & Truffle paste in August 2019. It’s divine and initial feedback has been very positive. The truffle complements the earthy flavour of the roasted hemp seed; it’s a match made in heaven. We are also gearing up to stock regular, raw, dehulled hemp seed and hemp protein powder.
FFW: What are the health benefits of hemp seeds?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Besides tasting great, hemp seed is rich in nutrients we need to keep us healthy. In particular, hemp seed is well-known for being high in protein, essential fatty acids and fibre. It also provides a great source of vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc. Most hemp seed products extract the oil or seed husk but by using Vasse Valley products you get the complete set of nutritional benefits that only the whole seed can give.
Futhermore, with today’s escalating food intolerances, hemp is a great alternative to peanuts and other nuts. Hemp seeds are gluten-free and suitable for vegans. They are a fantastic source of plant-based protein and essential fatty acids for those on restricted diets. What’s more, hemp is a non-GMO crop and is easy to grow without the use of chemical sprays so is generally free of contaminants. It’s easy to see why we are so passionate about it!
FFW: How would you describe the flavour of hemp?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Whilst raw hemp seed has a milky, raw cashew flavour, roasting it transitions these flavours to something more like hazelnut, toast and coffee. It is really quite unique in its nuttiness and earthiness. We’ve tried roasted hemp seed from other businesses, but it doesn’t even come close in flavour. As mentioned before we use a special roasting technique which optimises the flavour and brings out this beautiful aroma. We’d like to see it being used in commercial kitchens and restaurants around the country. A few restaurants currently have it on their menu in WA, mainly in red meat dishes and desserts and it’s selling really well.
FFW: Do you supply nationwide?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Yes, we do. Currently all our stockists are in WA as we have only recently launched our product line, however we are keen to start supplying to the eastern states.
FFW: What are the most compelling virtues of your brand?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Again, I think being paddock-to-plate is a pretty compelling virtue in itself. Not many businesses can claim they operate the entire growing and manufacturing chain themselves. We also pride ourselves on the simple, wholesome, natural ingredients in all our products, which are free of additives and preservatives. Having young children, we are very conscious about what our family eats (our two year old eats Roasted Hemp Seed Paste by the spoonful!) and want to ensure all our products are as safe as possible.
FFW: How does Vasse Valley look after customers?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: We value all clients, big or small, and want them to enjoy the Vasse Valley experience. Our packaging is attractive and informative and our website contains recipes using our product range. We have a very prompt and reliable order response and you will always be able to talk to one of the owners when placing orders or giving feedback. This way you can be assured that your communication will be taken seriously and acted upon.
FFW: What kinds of retailers would you like to have on board?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Currently, most of our stockists are high-end or independent supermarkets, gourmet food stores and farmers markets. Our products will suit any store with a focus on natural, healthy foods. We also invite chefs and other food and beverage manufacturers to experiment with this new flavour.
FFW: Are you able to supply bulk quantities of your hemp seeds to food manufacturers?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Yes, in fact our first clients were food and beverage manufacturers. Lead time will depend on the size of the order, but anything under 50kg can be dispatched within two weeks.
FFW: Would you say your products are ideal gifts?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Absolutely! We were extremely fortunate to find a fantastic designer who brought our vision to life. Our packaging is high quality, attractive, vibrant and informative and looks great in a hamper.
FFW: Do you have any serving suggestions or recipes that you can offer to retailers, caterers, foodservice businesses or consumers?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Heaps! Check out our website for recipe ideas. These recipes are only scratching the surface though as it’s the type of flavour that can complement a wide range of other flavours. For retailers, we strongly encourage tastings and can offer a complimentary packet of each product and a more detailed product description for this purpose.
As for food and beverage manufacturers, past and current products using our Crumble include beer, gin, wine, kombucha, ice cream and protein bars. Told you it was versatile!
FFW: What do you see as the future for hemp seed foods in Australia?
VASSE VALLEY HEMP FARM: Hemp seed has only been legalised for human consumption since late 2017. As far as I see it, the only way is up! Most people are still oblivious to this new super food and its health benefits. As for our particular products, it’s a new and exciting flavour still largely undiscovered by the food industry.