Welcome to our third write up in the Ethical Kollektiv’s Ethical Business Series, where we share the stories of some incredibly driven humans who have committed to running their own for-purpose businesses that are having a positive impact within our community.
During the height of the lockdown, the team at The Ethical Kollektiv and Bessie Kay (life marketing) were fortunate enough to visit a magical beekeeping business in Gippsland ran by Ben and Stacey Murphy assisted by their young son Easton and the newest addition to the family Theo.
Family businesses are a tough gig at the best of times, add bushfires droughts and a global pandemic on top of that and it will really test the waters.
Today we'd love to shed some light on the Tambo Valley Honey journey on how they have been able to withstand the tough times and continue to pursue their passion.
Tambo Valley Honey has been in operation for 3 years. Previously owned by the Cane family who are 3rd generation beekeepers. They are a family run business managing 1200 hives and specialise in honey and wax production along with pollination services.
Thanks for letting us into your space Ben, as a small business owner you take a punt around many factors such as past performance, market forecasts, IP, available capital and other relevant data or as many call it "calculated risk".
As a commercial beekeeper, you are at the complete mercy of mother earth and you have recently seen your major assets get wiped out by the bushfires.
Can you shed some light on how the business has been impacted by the fires?
During the 19-20 fires we had 450 of our hives in the fire impact area. With 220 of those being completely wiped out. We also lost 50% of our public land lease sites, where we place our bees.
There seems to be a misconception around forest regeneration, yes, it is growing back, but won’t be of value to the apiary industry for many years to come. In some areas, especially in clear fell areas, it may never recover.
The importance of a healthy forest is paramount to the apiary industry. Without these healthy forests, the flow-on effects would be huge not only here in Australia but worldwide, with the demand for pollination services growing each year.
To put it simply, our bees need the diversity of the eucalypt forest and ground flora to produce enough pollen (protein) and nectar (food source) to be able to build strong enough colonies to meet pollination requirements.
From a business point of view the fires seem to have had a devasting impact on your ability to operate, how do you diversify and reduce environmental factors negatively affecting your commercial supply?
We often spread our loads of bees around the state, generally half in one location and the other half elsewhere. The reasons for doing this is so if one particular location fails then hopefully the other one is doing well, so we don’t have all our eggs in one basket so to speak.
Also, there are the risks of major weather events, fires and floods that could impact certain areas and by spreading the loads we reduce the risks to these elements.
We also have some good friends in the industry who live all around the state and interstate and we all look out for each other.
We can't imagine the personal toll the fires would have had?
This is such a hard question to answer because in many ways we are constantly reminded by the fire (with how much of our forest was burnt) so the emotional impact is still there.
Yes, we lost a large portion of our business and future income but the way we choose to look at it though is that we were all ok, we didn’t lose any loved ones and our house is still standing, which as heart-breaking as it is, others weren’t as fortunate.
You are a resilient family that's for sure! We admire that you haven't mentioned commercial outcomes so far in our visit and would love to know how you define success in your operation?
Everyone has a different definition of success!
For us it's simple. When we feel content that our bees are in as good as a condition that the season has allowed for us!
If we can achieve this every year, then the year has been a success, regardless of our production rates.
It's been beautiful to watch the whole family involved in running the business. How do you keep up with it all?
We found the first 18 months we were purely business focused and that took its toll on us all. It wasn’t until the bushfires, that made us realise that we need to rethink the way we approach our family/work-life otherwise we would burn out.
We decided that during winter we would get away from home for family time (covid ruined it for us though) which would allow us to switch off and enjoy our time together.
It’s a little harder during peak season but we now make a conscious effort to get away for the day as a family even if that means we are having lunch out in the forest together while we are looking for the next season's prospects for the bees.
It's been an absolute pleasure hanging with you, Stacey and Easton and Theo, what's next on the horizon for Tambo Valley Honey?
The next 12-15 months are really exciting for Tambo Valley Honey! We are in the process of building a larger packing facility that will enable us to store more products and build a larger supplier base. Once the build has been completed, we will launch our website so that consumers can buy our products with ease.
We are also waiting on planning permits to be approved so we can build our own retail front on the Main Street of Bruthen. The shop front will contain our full range of honeys along with other bee-related products and will also give us more opportunities to be able to collaborate with other produces and makers in our area.
Before the store launches where can we get our hands on some of this goodness?
For now, we are selling our products via Facebook and Instagram, feel free to head over there, ask any questions and order your honey :D