It’s a fine Melbourne morning, slightly overcast with a breeze cool enough to make sure the coat is buttoned up. Jo Jackson meets us, shivering slightly in a light cardigan, and we seek refuge from the chill at Omar’s Nosh café / restaurant in Newport.
Jo is a secondary teacher with a thriving small business on the side, Range Teas, selling organic tea and herb blends to support health and wellbeing.
Passionate about her product, I ask Jo what having a sustainable business means to her. “It’s all about being responsible”, Jo tells me, “taking responsibility for where you source your product from, making sure it’s organic and that it supports local growers, using environmentally friendly packaging”. “It’s not about the money, I can’t stand the notion of just making money for money’s sake” she explains.
Jo comes from a gene pool of food producers and earth carers. Her English grandfather worked for Birdseye / Edgell and invented one of their canning machines. He also grew vegetables at home and Jo fondly remembers his dedication to the garden, his concern about chemical use in food production and his emphasis on the importance of eating healthy food. Jo’s fathers’ family was of German origin and her paternal grandmother, like many of her generation, adhered to a no-waste policy. Jo says “They had 8 kids and one tomato in the fridge, they knew how to make do, were very artistic and were craftsmen too.” When the going gets tough, Jo can feel her German grandmother helping her, guiding her decisions and providing emotional strength.
The family still owns a property in rural Gippsland, ‘South of the Strezleki Ranges and east of Wilson’s Promontory’ the property carries the inheritance of family craft in the buildings created by her uncles and provides an inspirational haven for her. It was there that she first started collecting and drying the herbs first planted by her grandmother and now growing wild and flourishing on the property. “Applemint”, says Jo, “whenever I pick it, I think of her”.
Jo’s personal health journey started with ongoing ill health. After a bout of glandular fever whilst at university, she didn’t pick up and found herself with chronic fatigue symptoms. A nine year battle ensued, characterised by severe environmental and food sensitivity symptoms. Jo completed a Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition and began searching for answers. She educated herself to avoid chemicals in food and established an Australian certified organic honey enterprise. The business grew throughout the long years of the Millennium drought, (1995 – 2012) securing national and international supply contracts.
Source Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_Australian_drought retrieved 27/06/2015
In 2014, Jo stepped out on her own to start Range Teas. Jo has combined her research into nutrition, her 20 years of organic food production knowledge and her business experience to craft a boutique tea business with sustainability and ethical practice at it’s heart. Asked about business sustainability, Jo says, “ I liked this idea of teas because it’s a product that is light, easy to package, has healing properties and is an ethical business. I keep it simple, at this stage I source my herbs from local Victorian producers and I do my own labels, mixing and packaging”.
I asked Jo how she would manage business growth and sustainability.
“I think the challenge for growing and keeping business sustainability is the ability to work out market size and distribution. I have a strong awareness of the bottom line. Rural production teaches you that. You don’t waste resources when you work in rural industries.”
The next five years will be a critical growth phase for Range Teas. Having spent the last two years market testing her product through doing the rounds of the Farmers Markets, Jo is now ready to take it to the next level. Whilst she says she’s still working on getting the packaging and marketing right, Jo is looking forward to taking the teas out to regional areas and introducing them through cafes state wide. Jo looks to other established business for guidance and lessons on how to proceed. “I love what Carolyn Cresswell has done with Carmen’s Muesli Bars, she’s taken a similar journey, in a similar food product and target market”, she says. “People are starting to wake up and realise sustainability is good business!”
So what are Jo’s tips for sustainability in business?
- Maintain an awareness of the bottom line – do your costs modelling.
- Ensure supply and ancillary products are from sustainable and ethical sources.
- Stay ahead of the changes in the packaging industry and create your packaging from biodegradable components that can be disposed of in household compost or worm-farms.
- Understand that business and health consciousness need to work together.
For Jo it’s all about the health benefits and healing power of the tea and herbal products she uses in her blends.
Like Joost Bakker and her grandparents before her, she’s both a practical business person and an innovative visionary for a healthier and more sustainable community.
Range Tea is an Australian company focussed on providing speciality blends of the finest quality, organically grown green and black teas and herbs. Organic teas are sourced from Japan and Sri Lanka and organic herbs are locally grown in Victoria, Australia.
Jo Jackson can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org