Happy Lunar New Year to a market garden with deep roots

Founded as a tiny rhubarb patch, Butler Market Gardens is now growing some of Australia’s best Asian vegetables and herbs.

The butler family standing in a crop

Ever wondered where your buk choy, Chinese broccoli, Vietnamese mint or Thai basil are grown?

Since 1973 family-owned Butler Market Gardens in Victoria has been supplying Coles year-round with the freshest range of Asian vegetables, spring onions and herbs available.

In the past demand for these fresh ingredients spiked around Lunar New Year, but such is the popularity of Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and Chinese food in Australia that customers are now enjoying them all year round.

“There’s definitely more interest in Asian cuisine,” says Andrew Smith the general manager (sales and marketing) of Butler Market Gardens. “Asian vegetables are a major component of the business alongside herbs and spring onions.”

In addition to its staple Asian crops such as buk choy, Chinese broccoli, choy sum and pak choy, Andrew says the company is also growing Thai basil and Vietnamese mint – once a novelty in Australia.

“We weren’t growing these Asian herbs until recently as we noticed the popularity had increased significantly,” he says.

Growing Asian herbs was certainly not on the agenda when Peter Butler founded the business on a small patch of land in Cheltenham in 1969 – Peter had to clear scrub and blackberries himself before planting his first crop of rhubarb.

From rhubarb the market garden soon diversified into parsnips, leeks, Dutch carrots, salad onions, cucumbers and turnips.

Today, Butler Market Gardens operates several field sites and hydroponic facilities in Victoria. The niche grower that once sold just 100 bunches of rhubarb is now growing 30 million bunches of vegetables and herbs each year.

Peter Butler sold the business to his son Rick five years ago but according to Andrew Smith the founder continues to take a keen interest in the business and its new product lines.

Under CEO Rick Butler the company has gone through a process of modernisation and is committed to the highest quality of product and an improved level of sustainability.

According to Andrew Smith the company’s biggest challenge is coping with Australia’s extreme and unpredictable weather.

“We are growing mostly soft-leaf products so heavy rain or hail is always a danger,” he says.

To ensure a year-round supply of vegetables and herbs the company has acquired sites across Victoria using a combination of field growing, greenhouses and hydroponic facilities.

“We have farms in a lot of different locations,” he says. “This allows us to achieve good quality and consistent supply for 52 weeks of the year.”

Asian vegetables and herbs and spring onions from Butler Market Garden are available nationally in Coles supermarkets.

See our Lunar New Year recipes