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The Byron Bay Herb Nursery is not your average herb nursery.

Known to some as Katia, this not-for-profit community organization was founded in Mullumbimby over 20 years ago with a unique mission: chiefly, to provide training opportunities for local people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

I visited the Nursery yesterday, located on a one-acre block on the outskirts of the Byron Arts and Industrial Estate and met with Nick Thom, the Manager of this gorgeously tranquil piece of herby/veggie/flowery paradise.

“We employee 13 people and pay productivity based wages under award conditions,” he says, “and part of our vision is to provide a work place culture that encourages skill development, independence, team work, and the production of a quality product.

“Our ultimate goal is to train these guys up and give them the confidence and skills to enter the open job market, and there have been a number of success stories,” adds Nick.

Since moving from Mullum to Byron in 1992, the organisation has grown from strength to strength: today, they supply stock to around 25 herb retailers on the NSW North Coast and hundreds of independent customers.

“When the organization first started in Mullum, it was at a time when people with intellectual disabilities were being moved out of institutions and places into houses in the community,” he says.  “It was founded by Leslie Bayliss who recently retired, and I guess we were the instigators… definitely one of the first wholesale herb nurseries in the region. There weren’t many around growing herbs at that time.”

Nick says Byron was definitely the right place to set up herb shop. “People are conscious of healthy food and environmentally friendly practices in growing herbs,” he says, “and the fact that we are very much about integration and involving our workers in the community and giving them skills, not just in horticulture but in areas like Occupational Health and Safety, customer service and cash handling for example, the community has really embraced what we do.”

The nursery has an amazing array of over 200 varieties of herbs, veges and flowers for sale, both common and rare varieties. From everyday cooking herbs like basil and coriander, to bush tucker varieties such as Lemon Myrtle and Davidsons Plum, through to Herbs for Cats like Catnip and Catmint and medicinal herbs like Echinacea and Brahmi, also available as herbal teas like peppermint and applemint – it’s all available here! There’ve even got a range of books and soon, a newly-revamped conference centre available for hire, equipped with data projector, high speed internet connection and air con.

And the big news is that soon, they’ll launch their own unique range of beautifully finished fragrant Lavender Bags, of which I scored a sample. Designed for pillows, undie drawers, cupboards and so on, these intricate handmade bags contain lavender buds cultivated and cut on-site. Nick says they’ll be targeted at local accommodation providers (of which there are many). YUM!

I also spoke with Louise Lilley, a Supervisor with the organisation for the last 10 years, who says she loves the work. “It’s a beautiful environment, and the skills the employees learn – it’s quite extraordinary,” she said.  

“From when they first start with us, it’s amazing the confidence they gain, seeing that they can learn so much. We really encourage them to increase their skills, we have expectations of them like any other work environment and often we have had people start here and after several years, move on to open employment – it’s great when that happens – that’s what we love to see.”

To find out more about Byron Bay Herb Nursery, visit

Posted: Thursday October 9, 2008

Published: Oct 9, 2008 8:45am by philippa.

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