“The Award last September and attending evokeAG. in February this year changed my headspace and I realised I had to be more creative and resilient in our farming and how we generated income,” said Claire.
The Kyneton resident is on a mission to inspire Australian beekeepers to increase their hive numbers while also exporting Australia’s healthy and clean bees to the world.
As a beekeeper, Claire is involved in breeding a genetically diverse range of queen bees that are healthy and adaptable in a variety of climates to address declining bee colony numbers.
Claire is also an innovator. Her farm business, The Good Life Farm Co, boomed during lockdown, and she even found time to launch Sweet Justice, a social enterprise for young people.
Always fascinated by queen breeding, Claire decided early on she wanted to be a queen breeder rather than a beekeeper for honey.
In 2017, after a decade working in the city stockbroking, Claire purchased her first hive, which she still has.
“I naively brought the hive home in the back of a two-door hatchback with bees escaping while driving down the Eastern Freeway!”
“Eventually I left my career in the city and moved into bees and the world of regenerative farming practices and my life has never been the same since.”
“I have been working away on the bees and building my experience in beekeeping and queen rearing. I have applied for a grant with Melbourne University, to work on a honeybee genome project so fingers crossed.”
Cracking egg sales during Covid-19
In 2017, Claire’s farming family expanded to include pastured egg business, The Good Life Farm Co, and the farm now runs 1,200 free-ranging hens. The Good Life was lucky enough to be the first farm in Victoria to obtain a Low-Density Pastures Poultry permit, which allowed the farm to produce enough high-quality produce to attend farmers markets nearly every weekend.
In November 2019, they moved into online sales but found that selling a dozen eggs online was a tough business model, so they added in other local small-scale veggies and products from local farmers.
“We were travelling along fine until Covid-19 lockdown hit and then things went boom and our sales skyrocketed,” said Claire.
“At the start of lockdown we were the only sales point for many Central Victorian farms, and we helped keep farmers moving produce and paying the bills. This earnt us a mention in parliament and the Victorian Minister of Agriculture followed suit with the introduction of a Victoria wide online farmers market.”
The wonky egg pasta factory begins
After attending evokeAG. 2020 in February this year, Claire changed the focus of her business to value-adding and waste minimisation.
“I wanted us to become more sustainable and I was concerned about the amount of egg waste on the farm,” said Claire.
“We started the wonky egg pasta factory in 2020, using our extra small, extra-large or funny-shaped eggs to make pasta when none was available on the shelves.”
And the business has gone from strength to strength.
“We now have a chef on the farm up to three days a week making pasta and gnocchi. We are moving into custard-based ice cream in the summer and the kids are stoked.”
Adding: “It has been one heck of a year in Victoria! Personally, it has been a difficult but really rewarding year with lots of time on farm and home schooling the kids.”
This year Claire has also been involved in starting a social enterprise teaching young beekeepers the commercial beekeeping skills she has learnt.
“I am teaching in a Juvenile Justice centre two days a week in a project called Sweet Justice,” said Claire.
“The young people really enjoy learning and working with hives and I am working with industry to create job placements so they can take what they learn into the workforce and maybe one day start their own businesses.”
This project is based on an innovative American social enterprise called the Sweet Beginnings Project that uses beekeeping training to engage youth in detention centres and offer them a new beginning.
Sweet Beginnings trains the young people as beekeepers, and during the program they help to maintain and harvest hives. The project also involves making honey and graduates of the program have a criminal recidivism rate of just 4% compared with an average of 65% for other youths in their cohort.
The growth in Claire’s business enterprises has meant has been able to create five new part time jobs during the pandemic and increase her profits, something she is very proud of.
“My life has changed so dramatically since the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, it’s not even comparable,” said Claire.
“You can achieve whatever you want. Find the right people to help you and then find the pathway that will get you there.”
For more information on the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award program: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/people-leadership/rural-womens-award/
For more information on the AgriFutures Honey Bee and Pollination Program: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/rural-industries/honey-bee-pollination/