New Blood in the Orchard

A couple of years ago I gave up being “busy”. It was when I was doing the project for the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award and had a lot on my plate – you can read about it here.

Here’s what I had to say at the time about being busy…

“My theory is that “busy” is a code word that l (and lots of other people) use when what we really mean is overworked, stressed, under-supported, tired, financially burdened, worried, over-committed, important, in demand, or worthy of your sympathy! For me, busy had become my not-so-subtle way of saying to people (a) look how popular and ‘in demand’ I am; (b) isn’t the life of a farmer hard; (c) don’t expect me to take on anything else; and (d) look at me, I’m superwoman! None of which is actually true.”

Well, old habits die hard! Lately I’ve heard myself not only talking about being busy, but slipping back into the old mindset as well.

It comes with the territory of a fruit season; most farmers with seasonal crops have to cope with the sometimes extreme workloads imposed by harvest (as opposed to dairy farmers, for example, who have a more steady work pace all year).

Harvest is definitely crunch time. It’s arguably the most important part of our farming calendar, because if we don’t get this part of the process right – where we convert produce to money – the rest of it is kind of pointless, unless you’re content for your farm to just be an expensive hobby (and we’re not!).

At this time of year our workload is imposed on us, not just by the demands of picking and storing produce at peak condition, but also packing and selling it, and maintaining all the systems and processes to make everything run smoothly. We’ve been recording our work hours lately, and are averaging 60 hours per week! It’s easy to feel that it’s out of our control – but of course, that’s not true.

Yes, during the peak of the fruit season there is no extra time to have regular business meetings or down time without sacrificing fruit to do so, but as the season starts to slow down into a more manageable pace, it’s easier to find the time to start reflecting on the season and noticing what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, and where we could introduce more efficiencies. It’s also when we usually remember that we chose not only this lifestyle, but also every aspect of our business.

As we prepare to hand over the orchard to our intern Ant on 1 July, we’re very conscious of the need to teach him as much as we can about the fruit business, as quickly as possible. But we’re also hoping that his new energy will bring a different perspective to the orchard and lead to new initiatives, new ways of doing business and new efficiencies we’ve never thought of.

We could easily have made different choices: grow fewer varieties to shorten our harvest season, simplify our marketing, use chemicals to reduce our workload, expand the size of the orchard, or even grow different crops. We could even choose day jobs where we work 9 to 5, go home in the evening and leave work behind!

But none of those choices would have matched our values or made us feel good about our careers, and where would be the fun in that?

Inspiring young entrepreneurs

katie-vce-business-forum-latrobe-270x480Two things happened this week to make me feel inspired, enthused and excited about business.

latrobe-business-forum-katie-3The first was being asked to be the keynote speaker at the La Trobe Uni VCE Business Forum in Bendigo, presenting to Year 11 business students. Part of my presentation was about our two businesses (Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens, our organic orchard, and Grow Great Fruit, our online business), and about the project I ran as the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winner for Victoria in 2015, but it was also a great opportunity to share stories of some really inspirational young entrepreneurs that we’re connected with.

17360834_10154169480657167_517128767_nYou’ve no doubt heard of the lovely Gung Hoe Growers, who run a market garden on our farm (and in fact share the writing of this blog with us).  It was a joy to share their story of how (and why) they got started, their successes and failures, and to pass on their sage advice to the budding entrepreneurs in the audience, especially the advice not to be afraid to start even if you don’t know everything, and that you can do a LOT more than you think you can.

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But it was also fun to share the story of some other young businesspeople such as Grace, who at the tender age of 20 started her own fashion label called “Bedroom The Label”. One year later she’s graduated out of the bedroom (where she literally started the business) into a studio in Collingwood (Melbourne), has taken on an intern, and has recently scored her first overseas orders. You can follow Grace’s meteoric progress through her Instagram account here.

latrobe-business-forum-katie8I also shared Allie’s story, who is in the throes of starting his own tattoo business called “Stick With It Tattoo”. As Allie’s mum, I wasn’t hugely impressed when he bought a tattoo machine on eBay and started practising on himself, but a couple of years later I’m incredibly proud to see him enrol in a business course, negotiate the regulations required to open his own tattoo studio, and open his first business! You can follow his progress on Instagram here.

It was also pretty amazing to find myself being asked to present the keynote address at a business forum, but I can trace that directly back to having won the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award for Victoria in 2015, which gave me (amongst many other things) the experience and confidence to be able to take on this kind of challenge.

Which leads me to the other great thing that happened this week, which was attending the awards ceremony for this year’s Rural Women’s Award recipient on Wednesday this week.

rwa-kirsten-abernethy-cath-jenkins-480x269This year’s winner is Kirsten Abernethy (that’s her on the right in the photo), who has planned a fabulous project to help women in the fishing industry to find their voice. Of course there was a field of incredible finalists as well, including Cath Jenkins (on the left). I very much look forward to watching Kirsten’s progress, and the professional and personal development that I know from experience will come from her involvement with the awards.

rwa-alumni-lunch-2017-480x269Just one of the many ongoing gifts from being involved in the RIRDC Awards is being part of the alumni, so it was lots of fun to head to the alumni lunch after the awards and catch up with old friends, meet new people, and leave re-inspired to continue to grow in my business and personal life, and to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way.

Katie

Organic farming across borders

This week we’re delighted to bring you a guest blog from Norma Tauiliili, who spent the week with us as a WWOOFer, but a WWOOFer with a difference!

Norma works for an organisation called Women in Business Development Inc (Samoa) (WIBDI), an organisation dedicated to strengthening village economies in Samoa in ways that honour indigenous tradition, use traditional and modern technology, and promote fair trade. The organisation works in 183 Samoan villages, and nurtures certified organic farming enterprises that annually puts more than SAT$600,000 (A$314,000) into the hands of rural families.

We very much enjoyed having Norma stay with us, and feel like we definitely learned as much from her as she did from us. We look forward to staying in touch and strengthening our connection with WIBDI.

We hope you enjoy her story.

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Hi, my name is Norma Tauiliili from Samoa. I have been offered the Royce and Jean Abbey scholarship by the Rotary Club of Bendigo to spend 3 months in Australia.

I work for Women in Business Development Incorporated (WIBDI), a nongovernment organisation in Samoa, as a senior field officer. I’m visiting Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens in Harcourt this week. My visit is all about learning organic farming, and gaining and sharing knowledge and experience.

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Norma learning how to pick pears (her “favourite fruit”)

So, my first day here was quite amazing. My first job was taking photos with Katie for International Women’s Day (taken by Larissa Romensky, from ABC). [MAFG: Norma was interviewed by ABC while she was at the farm. See the link to the story on ABC Online below.] Then it was time to go out there and start to learn something. Katie tells me they have about 20 Williams (pear) trees, and we went out picking some of them – we got 8 boxes of pears. This was very good and interesting for me to experience the work, even though we don’t have this sort of pear trees back home.

About ‘Women in Business’; it’s our vision that families in Samoa are valued and can contribute fully to their own development, and the development of their community and country through income generation, job creation, and participation in the village economy. We work with families and all Samoa to strengthen their capacity to generate and manage income, and lessen dependence on remittances for their daily needs. Therefore our mission is to provide and empower these families with knowledge and skills, and opportunities to access finance and markets.

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Chocolate and soap products produced by WIBDI

The Women in Business Farm to Table Project (FTTP) is about providing weekly organic baskets. It involves going out to our farmers and talking with them to see if they can supply produce we need for our fresh organic baskets. We give them the list of what produce we want them to supply and bring into the office (to be included in the baskets).

While at the farm our field officers check all the produce (quality control) to see if it’s OK or not. If it’s not good, it has to stay on the farm. We tell them to look out for a better quality of produce, because our customers will not be happy if it’s no good. Our customers send us feedback about the organic boxes, (negative or positive), as well as requests about what they want in the boxes, which is really good for us and helps us to improve our project work.

Once our farmers and produce arrive in the office, our FTTP Team spend their time assembling the produce into organic baskets, after paying our farmers. Farmers can choose whether they put some of their money into farmers’ savings through our microfinance manager, or they take it for their family needs, but it’s compulsory for every farmer to have some money saved in our microfinance – this helps them to save some money.

It’s up to our customers whether have their order delivered to their doorstep with our WIBDI fee of $5, or else pick up their basket from our office between 2 pm and 4.30 pm. Delivery of organic baskets will be ready between 12 noon and 3 pm.

Another thing we’ve done to support our local farmers is that we organized an Organic Night Market at the Samoa Tourism village in Eleele Fou in Apia. On a Friday night once a fortnight the farmers come together to sell their fresh produce, Meaai Samoa (Samoan cooking), fine mats, handicrafts, and plants to make some income.

Every night market our boys (field officers) go out and collect the farmers and bring them in so they can do the market. Afterwards they have to drive them home again. Our night market starts at 4 pm and goes until 9 or 9.30 pm. Most of our families, friends, and customers come down and buy our goods, and support the best of what our organic farmers have to offer.

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Norma learning budding (summer grafting), a technique she thinks will have application on farms in Samoa

You can read more of Norma’s story here at ABC online, and listen to the audio version on the Country Hour and on Pacific Beat, both on ABC radio on Monday 13 March 2017.

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Norma and Katie photographed for the ABC online story