IT started with flowers.
Now, three years after launching the Newcastle Flower Markets at Sandgate, Jessica Eckford-Aguilera is working toward the next stages planned for the space.
In March, the first expansion of the site unveiled the addition of a food market with a focus on stocking Australian-made and local produce, including everything from eggs and honey to cheese and sourdough bread from producers such as Largs Honey, The Local Yolk, Binnorie Dairy and Two Bobs Bakery from Nelson Bay.
Hunter wholesaler Rarity sell fresh fruit and vegetables (including singles and family boxes that offer excellent value), while the meat section has locally-sourced produce from Hunter Valley Premium Meats.
"It's the same ethos we have with the flowers and that is to support Australian growers," said Eckford-Aguilera, who runs the business with her husband, Franco.
"We wanted to have an indoor food market and gourmet farmers market, and support our talented local foodies and producers."
The Lorn-raised florist returned to Newcastle three years ago with a vision to operate Newcastle's first wholesale flower market after living in Sydney for 22 years.
As well as the flower and food market, We Grow Plants has taken up a permanent home in the greenhouse and, in June, they expanded the cafe offering from coffee to include a full menu (Franco is the chef).
The menu includes light meals such as bruschetta, quiche, caesar salad, bagels and toasties, along with smashed avocado toast, house-made granola and yoghurt, and crumpets, where, again, they highlight local produce.
The crumpets with fresh ricotta and sweet dukkah are drizzled with lavender honey from Largs Honey, and the ham, cheese and tomato toast has smoked ham from Branxton Meats.
"We always knew we were going to go into the food side of things eventually, but in 15 months, it has been a whirlwind," she says.
The couple has big plans for the future.
A patisserie will open on-site in the coming months.
They are in talks with an architect to set up a rooftop farm on the site's two buildings, and are also in the process of securing a bar license (they also plan to open on Sundays).
"We will do night markets where people can chill out, have a glass of wine, sit on a picnic rug and have something to eat and listen to live music," she says.
"My husband is originally from Chile, so when the license comes through, we will host a South American night with Mexican food and mariachi music."
A little further down the track, they want to build an American-style barn on an empty lot at the front of the block that will allow the market to expand the food offering and nursery.
"We want to turn this area into something like South Melbourne Market. It's a destination. That's what we are creating," she says.
"Not everything is in the city. If you had come to me 20 years ago and said 'You'll have a business in Sandgate' I wouldn't have believed you. I think we have put Sandgate on the map."