Homeless millionaire repays Nimbin
By Luke Prendergast
ONCE upon a time a young homeless man hurt, angry, lost and confused about his place in the world found his way to Nimbin.
You know where this story is going, don't you? Nimbin = drugs. Homeless man becomes another statistic.
No. Not even close.
Try this: Young homeless man makes his way to Nimbin. Tries weed, doesn't like it. Finds that Nimbin also = organic produce and sustainable agriculture. Nimbin = support and encouragement. He sees an opportunity, runs with it, establishes a business and becomes a millionaire. That's exactly what Ben Debs did when, in 1990, at the age of 25, and after eight years of homelessness, he arrived in Nimbin.
"I was homeless from 17 to 25. I hitch-hiked around Australia and tried to make sense of a world that didn't make any sense. I got to Lismore and someone suggested Nimbin ," he said.
"At the time it was completely feral. But I found a home there and found it really healing, and within six months I started a distribution business, supplying organic produce. Within three years we grew to a $2 million turnover."
'We' is Ben's company, Organic Isle Produce, which provides certified organic produce for the likes of Woolworths. It also contracts farmers to grow grains and legumes and helps with market research about what to grow to get the best return. He is also establishing 'Farmers Food Aid' to donate food to Third World countries.
Ben has also returned to organise a festival next year to celebrate the area's alternative energy, medicine, living and organic agriculture.
He hopes it will be a celebration to rival Mardi Grass and remind people that there's more to Nimbin than just marijuana.
"You've got to remember that back in the 70s when they first starting talking about organic produce and sustainable agriculture in Nimbin they were dismissed as hippies, but now they've been proved right," he said.
Ben said Nimbin and those hippies saved his life and now it was time to pay them back.