When you find that spot where you are supposed to be and really contribute, there’s a lot of satisfaction.
When Jessica and her husband, Matt, decided to pack up their lives in Brisbane for an extended camper van trip around Australia with their three kids, they had no idea of what was next.
The plan was to reconnect and re-energize. Living the daily grind in the city led Jess and Matt to a point where they realised something needed to change and that ‘having it all’ came at a cost.
Two months into the trip around Australia, Matt took a call from his uncle offering them a manager’s position at a mango, lime and avocado orchard just outside Mareeba on Atherton Tablelands, Queensland.
The challenge of turning a run-down property into a new business appealed to Jess and Matt, so they headed to the Atherton Tablelands and Blue Sky Produce was born.
On the drive to the tablelands, Jess, pregnant with their fourth child, wondered what her role would be in the business. Taught by her parents from a very young age the mantra of ‘It's not I can't, it’s, how can I?’, Jess wondered how she could make this work.
Eight years on, Blue Sky Produce has on-site grading, packing, transport, marketing and selling facilities and is gaining global recognition.
Jess admits that it took some time to figure out her role in the business. Growing up on a dairy farm near Malanda on the Atherton Tablelands, she could see how much farm businesses had changed. The idea that farming involved a marketing and communications strategy was definitely not part of business thinking back then.
Nowadays the role of marketing and communications in agricultural businesses is more important than ever. Social media platforms were crucial to building brand recognition for Blue Sky Produce.
“Business is being done differently these days, and people want to know the story behind what they are buying. You need to use social media to tell an authentic story about your values and have a conversation with your market, not just as a sales platform,” says Jess.
As well as raising four kids and running the communications arm of Blue Sky Produce, Jess works off farm in her own consultancy firm, Back Paddock Business, providing business and communications support to rural enterprises. The off-farm income is a vital part of the farm economy – because diversity of income mitigates financial risk and is an important part of her contribution to the farming enterprise. And if these activities weren’t enough to keep her busy, Jess is a Board Director with both Northern Gulf Resource Management Group and the newly formed Australian Agritech Association. Jess also sits on the Agrifutures Australia Advisory Panel, the Regional Economies Centre of Excellence Advisory Panel and is the co-founder of the Future Agro Challenge Australia with extensive experience working in the regional start-up and innovation space.
Jess is very keen to see more farm women get on industry boards. She sees that type of contribution as an important part of her own ongoing professional development and encourages women to take up leadership opportunities when they feel they have the capacity.
“We need people willing to be brave and share themselves if we are going to continue to innovate and grow in the agricultural industry in Australia. Don't be afraid to fail and make mistakes, that is the only way to learn and do better - it sucks - but the pain does fade!” says Jess.
Heading into 2021, there are absolutely no regrets about leaving Brisbane to travel around Australia in a camper van and then settling back in Far North Queensland to raise their kids on a farm and work in the Agriculture industry.
“It feels awesome to know where you want to make a difference in the world and to get up every day and try to take tiny, positive steps towards that. There’s a lot of talk about purpose and ‘finding your why’, but it’s true! When you find that spot where you are supposed to be and really contribute, there’s a lot of satisfaction! Who cares if you have travel across the country and back to find it, as long as you do!” she says.
What’s next for Jess?
“I'm thinking about doing some research work, I definitely want to keep gaining experience as a board director and I'd love to undertake the Australian Rural Leadership Program. While of course trying to be a good mum and farm wife too!”
We hope the ‘Jessica’ shirt story will encourage you to be brave and share yourself to innovate and grow.