Times are tough in agriculture, even for small operators like second-generation beekeeper Gary Poile, but he’s good for a sweet deal.
The Collector producer learned the age-old craft from his father, and tried to give it away, but it’s “definitely in the genes”, he says.
“My great-grandfather ... we’ve got his diary from 1884, where he was going around collecting honey from swarms in logs and things.
“There’s one day he says, ‘Spent the day straining honey till lunch time, then planting blackberries in the afternoon’. Well, we’ve still got his blackberries, and we’re still chasing his bees!” he laughs.
Poile’s Honey is a regular stallholder at the monthly Parkside Markets in Montague Street, a Goulburn Rotary Club initiative.
“They do a great job,” Mr Poile says of the voluntary organisation.
“There are a few involved, a few producers: olive growers, wine growers and the like, people who bake cakes and what have you.”
But “there always seems to be a conflict [of events when it’s on]. Even this weekend, there’s Convoy for Kids and Ladies Day at the races, and ... that can make it a bit difficult to run the market.
“About 50 percent of my customers are regulars who keep coming back. But a number are just passing through Goulburn, pull up at the Visitors’ Centre [on Sloane Street] and ... wander up.
“So every time it’s on, I am selling honey to people from all over the countryside [having] a bit of a sticky beak and a wander round.”
Mr Poile would like to see the markets prosper with local support as a way for small producers like him to sell direct to the district.
“The valley, all these little blocks, they’re hobby farmers, but they’ve all got opportunity to grow and do things off their land,” he says.
“I think it is an opportunity for small farmers, people who could do a bit, grow a bit, and sell a bit, directly. The more people you have selling, the more people it will attract; and the more people it will attract, the more people will want to sell. So I’m keen to promote it, because it can win on all fronts. Plus it is a great social thing, meeting all these other small farmers; a few yarns that go around.”
Having lived through many seasons of climactic and agricultural change, Mr Poile favours “old-fashioned natural sequence” farming.
“The only drawback on that is that the seasons don’t always go the way they used to. So one of our big issues ... is climate change.
“Whether it’s actually drought or whether it’s the new norm is the question that we’ve got to ask ourselves. That means, for me in the beekeeping game, that you’ve got to keep adjusting.
“In the commercial end of the game, where some beekeepers are running a couple of thousand hives of bees, they … can’t afford to do it like I do, where I treat every hive nearly as a pet.
“I run a few courses for the amateur [beekeeper] and I try to demonstrate how you can run your bees without needing supplements like sugars and treatments with antibiotics, but with old-fashioned management skills, which were taught to me by my father, because he had to do it in those days.
“You didn’t have chemicals and things to treat bees with, so you had to do it naturally. You had to look after your hives.
“But I’m really encouraged in the last little while as people start to realise what’s happened with honey; that in the supermarkets there is a lot of imported product in it; that people are now actually waking up and ... going to things like local farmers’ markets.
“Going direct, my message to producers is if you can sell, don’t worry about cutting out the middle man: become the middle man.”
Age-old as his beekeeping wisdom is, Mr Poile admits he’s learning a new craft: marketing, with help from his social media-savvy son.
“Marketing it is as [important] as producing it,” he says.
The public want “nice products presented well, and if you have to stand behind your stall every month, and you put up something that’s not good, someone will turn up and tell you, very quickly.”
And this Saturday, Mr Poile will have a sweet marketing deal for Post readers, offering a free jar of his golden goods to the first 50 who mention this story (after 8am).
- Parkside Rotary Markets, Montague Street, Goulburn, Saturday November 10, 8am-1.30pm
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