It was tremendous to have our business recognised in this way as sustainability and the environment are so central to the ethos of our business. The awards evening was a great way to learn more about the positive activities of businesses in our region. We have found the whole process to be a fantastic opportunity to review our business and reflect on how it has evolved over the years.
2015 Business of the Year Award – Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens
It was really great to be recognised for our export success by the Mt Alexander Business Awards in 2015.It definitely helped gain further exposure to drive our business forward. If you are working hard in your business then it is a fantastic idea to enter!
Kye Livingstone, Harcourt Valley Vineyards,
winner of the Mount Alexander Business Export Award 2015
Spotlight on Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens
2015 Business of the Year
Entering or winning a business award can bring many benefits beyond the title.
To find out more read our interview with Katie and Hugh Finlay from Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens who won Business of the Year Award in 2015. The business took home $2,000 in prize money as well as the Sustainability and Environment Award.
Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens is a certified organic orchard at Harcourt, located in the foothills of Mt Alexander. Hugh and Katie Finlay grow more than 140 varieties of fruit including cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, apples and pears, and specialise in heritage varieties. They focus on biological farming, improving the soil, energy efficiency and sustainable practice.
To help diversify their business Hugh and Katie inject their passion into teaching organic fruit growing to home growers through the Grow Great Fruit membership program, onsite visits, workshops and newsletters. They also share their knowledge about organic farming and sustainability by writing and selling the Grow Great Fruit e-books series, and running farm visits and field trips for industry, community groups and students.
What did winning the sustainability and environment award mean to you and your business?
We had been working really hard on improving our sustainability practices for years, ever since we did a council-funded course called ‘Footprints to Sustainability’ back in 2008. After doing the course we wrote a sustainability plan which we implemented over the next five years, plus we became certified organic. It was the start of a whole new direction for us. The plan helped us improve our farming and business practices and start to tell our sustainability story, particularly through social media. Winning the award was not only very personally satisfying for us, it was great ‘social proof’ for our customers to show that we ‘walk the talk’.
How did it make you feel to be acknowledged as Mount Alexander Shire’s business of the year?
We were really proud to be acknowledged as an important part of the economic and social fabric of the shire despite being such a small business! We know there are some pretty awesome businesses operating locally so it was really incredible for us to actually win the major award.
It really reinforced the fact that you’ve got to be in it to win it! We received lots of media attention, which was even more proof for our customers. The award has continued to be something really noteworthy about our business – when we hear ourselves described in the media or by people we know. It’s a pretty amazing label to be able to wear, and we wear it with great pride.
How has being recognised for an award(s) benefited your business? Did it open any new doors?
Yes! Winning awards always opens new doors. For example Regional Development Victoria in Bendigo got in touch with us after they saw the story about our award. When they heard our future plans they suggested we apply for funding through the Food and Fibre initiative to help us implement our plans. With their help we applied for the funding and right now are waiting to hear the result.
Even though you can’t always see a direct line between an award and new opportunities, it’s definitely had a positive impact on our business. For example, I was invited onto the inaugural Loddon Mallee Rural Women’s Network Committee and we have been asked to be involved in the new organic farming courses at Bendigo Kangan Institute. We’ve had lots of media opportunities including a recent radio interview on the ABC’s Country Hour. It just really helps to get your name out there as a credible business.
What did you do with the $2,000 prize money?
We used the prize money to build a small farm shop so we could sell our fruit to the public from the farm door. We also built a lovely little garden and seating area outside the shop for customers. By working with a brilliant local designer, with a great vision for re-purposing lots of old farm junk lying around, we managed to create a really beautiful rustic shop and garden within budget. Building the shop and garden has created a really pleasant experience for our visitors and created more opportunities for us. For instance, another business asked us if they could use our place to promote their business because it’s such a beautiful place to bring visitors!
What have you been working on since you won the award?
We’re still very focused on improving our sustainability practices, particularly on improving the productivity of the farm and reducing the risks posed by climate change. We are currently exploring a collaborative farming model where we would stack our farm with as many small organic farming enterprises as possible, all working together to make the farm really productive while sharing resources and increasing the amount of food produced from the same piece of land. We’ve applied to RDV for funding to do a business development plan to explore this idea fully, and will then be looking for investors to help us put the plan into action!
What tips or advice do you have for other businesses entering the awards?
Definitely do it!
We have a policy of applying for an award or grant every year or so. Filling out the application form is a good chance to re-assess where your business is at and your achievements to date, as well as refocus on your future plans.
So many small business owners fall into the trap of being too busy working ‘in’ the business to take the time to work ‘on’ the business. We’re really strong advocates for applying for awards because going through the process is honestly almost as valuable as winning. Of course, it’s also fantastic if you’re lucky enough to win!
To find out more about Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens visit www.mafg.com.au.