Bianca Jacques reflects on The Loose Leaf Lettuce journey
Bianca Jacques has always had a passion for farming. Growing up on her family’s property, Bianca joined The Loose Leaf Lettuce company when still at high school. Nearly 20 years later, she is the operation’s Processing Manager. Vegetables Australia spoke to Bianca about her career and what she learnt along the way.
The Loose Leaf Lettuce Company, located at Gingin in Western Australia, is one of the largest growers of lettuce, spinach and rocket in the state.
Owned by Maureen Dobra, her husband Barry and their son Kevan, the operation also processes these fresh, gourmet salad vegetables. At the forefront of this arm of the operation is the company’s Processing Manager, Bianca Jacques, who oversees around four tonnes of produce every day. Bianca is currently working part-time after she gave birth to her first child in November 2019 and shares the Processing Manager role with her sister, Justine.
Bianca has worked at The Loose Leaf Lettuce Company for around 17 years. She started at the company as a school student working part-time, and her career has progressed over nearly two decades.
“I just did my job to get where I am today. When things needed to be done, I would do it instead of waiting for someone else to do it,” Bianca said.
“If I didn’t know how to do a job, I would ask someone to show me so next time I could do it myself. As I learned to do more in the packing shed, I was able to help previous managers and was appointed 2IC (second in command) when I was 18.
“Of course, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Maureen Dobra’s guidance and inspiration.”
As Processing Manager, Bianca’s role is to oversee the running of the packing shed.
“It is my job to liaise with other managers on-farm to make sure we can send out the best quality product that we can. I have a number of staff working in the shed and it’s my job to make sure they are all working to their highest standard. So, I do rosters, training and everything in between,” she explained.
“Along with the responsibility that comes with being a manager, I have to make sure that stock is kept in supply and ensure that we don’t run out of anything. Therefore, a monthly stocktake is done and I order what is needed.”
On a mission
Almost three years ago, Bianca attended the 2017 Women’s Industry Leadership and Development Mission to Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, which was a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.
The two-week study tour has had a lasting impression on Bianca, who made valuable connections with other vegetable industry members and gained an insight into how other countries grew fresh produce and utilised their farmland.
“It’s amazing how different techniques can still yield the same produce,” she said.
“I learnt that farming is so important for the younger generation to take on. In Japan, the average age of a farmer is 72. The younger generation has no interest in farming; therefore, Japan only produces maybe 15 per cent of its own produce. The rest is imported.
“Also, I saw that women are just as important and involved with all aspects of the horticulture industry – from seeding, harvesting, packing, selling and networking. Farmers aren’t just old men driving a tractor.”
While on the tour, Bianca observed how much other countries rely on fresh produce from Australia.
“There’s a huge market in Asia and because there isn’t much farmland, importing is vital,” she said.
The group also attended Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong, which also added to Bianca’s knowledge.
“Asia Fruit Logistica was full of so many exhibits such as new seeds, robotics in farming, networking and the possibility of new international clients,” she said.
Bianca highly recommends the study tour to other vegetable industry members.
“This is an ongoing industry that is vital for our lifestyle. Travelling or keeping connections to other countries and seeing what’s on trend there is important so we can keep up with the market,” she said.
“Knowing I’m part of what some almost take for granted – it’s pretty special when you go to a restaurant and see the produce that you helped get there.”
Throughout her career, The Loose Leaf Lettuce Company has allowed Bianca to access educational resources offered by the peak body of the Western Australian vegetable industry.
“I have been fortunate enough to be able to use the resources that vegetablesWA has offered on more than one occasion,” she said.
“It has run a negotiation workshop that myself and a few other Loose Leaf employees attended. I also attended the Industry Summit held at Crown Perth a couple of years ago. There was a lot of information received, as well as guest speakers and networking.”
Otherwise, Bianca learns on the job. And while she doesn’t grow the produce herself, Bianca has had opportunities to speak to vegetable growers through different networking events and field days.
Advice for others
Bianca is a proud member of the vegetable industry, and she has some advice for women who are looking for a career in horticulture.
“Knowing I’m part of what some almost take for granted – it’s pretty special when you go to a restaurant and see the produce that you helped get there,” she said.
“I think women already know how important they are to the horticulture industry. Anyone looking to join should jump straight into it. They will be pleasantly surprised as to how many women already work in this sector.
“Most of us are career women or working mums, so we know how important vegetables are in our diet. So, why not become someone who is responsible for growing them?”
About The Loose Leaf Lettuce Company
Located in Gingin, Western Australia, The Loose Leaf Lettuce Company is one of the largest growers of lettuce, spinach and rocket in the state, while it also produces Asian green varieties, including kale.
With over 40 years of growing experience, this family business is passionate about the produces. What once started as a sideline to meet a clients’ request for tiny lettuce leaves has developed into an innovative and successful business, providing employment for the community of Gingin and consistently delivering six days a week to customers all over Western Australia and interstate.
Find out more at loose-leaf.com.au.
This profile first appeared in the leading magazine for the Australian vegetable industry, Vegetables Australia. If you’d like to subscribe to receive a new edition of Vegetables Australia in your mailbox every three months, use our online subscription form!
Images courtesy of Bianca Jacques.
Cover image: The Loose Leaf Lettuce Company Processing Manager Bianca Jacques with Farm Manager Steve Allie.