What has the drought, and then the bushfires, taught you about running a business?
The drought made us approach the way we do things a little bit differently. The majority of my bee sites are here in East Gippsland, so we’d chase certain rainfall patterns, to find areas of good growth and pollen and nectar for the bees.
You’re always keeping an eye on rainfall patterns around the state. If one area is constantly getting rain, we say to ourselves ‘Right we’ve got to head over there to check out the trees and see what’s going on’, rather than staying at home and hoping that something will happen. You have to get on the front foot and really make things happen.
As for the fire, that’s been the biggest one for me. The drought looked like it was starting to come to an end, there was a patch of bush that was flowering and everything was starting to work together.
And then three weeks later the fire ripped through. That was hard. Lives were lost.
We had 450 of our hives in the fire impact area, and the roads were closed due to the amount of trees across the road. There was a two-week period of not knowing what had happened to our bees. We lost 220 hives – each hive holds up to 50,000 bees – but the bush that’s burnt is the biggest loss we’re going to face. The fires have been devastating to our industry.
But on the whole, we consider ourselves pretty lucky. Yeah, we lost some stuff, but we’re alive and well.
What support did you get from the East Gippsland community after the fires?
Directly after the fires, we shifted some of our hives to South Gippsland. You would have thought you were in a different country; it was so green and lush! The support we had from strangers down there was amazing – people offering us land to put the bees on; it was overwhelming, and a really beautiful sense of community.
We also did a collaboration with three other local businesses that were affected – not by the fire directly, but by the lack of tourism – putting together a box of local produce that contained milk, eggs, bread and obviously our honey. That’s been really good in a mental health sense; four different people, from four different walks of life, that we’ve been able to bounce ideas off and just ring up for a chat and take your mind off things. We wouldn’t have met them if it wasn’t for the fire.
There was a guy I’d been mates with for years. We’d never been super close, but he was fantastic to me during the fires. He could sense that something wasn’t quite right, and he was always there for me.
People like that – people who see the good in people – are so important, especially in times like this.
I never directly reached out to anyone for support. There are people out there who are far worse off than we are; I knew that we could get through this by ourselves. I got a call from ANZ about taking part in one of their markets in Melbourne. We had no idea it even existed, but they knew that we’d been impacted and that this would be a benefit to us. We hadn’t done many markets, but our bank manager in Bairnsdale really pushed us to get involved, and I’m glad we did.
It’s opened up more avenues for us – we’ve got our first stockist in Melbourne and we’ve really widened our customer base.
If you could give three pearls of wisdom to anyone thinking of setting up their own business, what would they be?
1. Surround yourself with good people. That’s definitely number one! And find yourself a mentor. I wouldn’t have been able to get through this period without Ian.
2. Don’t be scared of change or taking risks.
3.Back your own judgment.
Where can people get their hands on some Tambo Valley Honey?
We’re working on an online store and we’ve got a stockist in Melbourne now, but in the meantime, just drop us a message through our socials and we’ll post some out.
And have you been stung by a bee yet?
(More laughter) I’ve been stung a lot! It’s part and parcel of the job. You get used to it though.