11 February 2022

How two social entrepreneurs came to purchase Binalong's iconic Old Produce Store

| Max O'Driscoll
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Mikhara Ramsing and Elise Stephenson

Mikhara Ramsing and Elise Stephenson are the new owners of The Old Produce Store in Binalong. Photo: Facebook.

After travelling more than 75,000 kilometres around Australia working with communities on topics ranging from entrepreneurship to gender equality, Mikhara Ramsing and Elise Stephenson were looking for a change of pace when Elise’s work sent her to Canberra.

Having spent the last few years in rural Australia, the couple shunned the idea of living in the nation’s capital and looked to the surrounding region for where their next home would be. That’s when they came across the advertisement for The Old Produce Store in Binalong.

“Honestly, we saw the store for sale, and although initially we were just looking for a home, it just fit perfectly because Mikhara runs a tea company already, and we have business interests and were branching into homewares and other sorts of exciting goods,” said Elise.

“We didn’t set out to run the store, but now that we are here, it’s really very exciting.”

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The couple began talks with the owner who spoke passionately about her love for the local community and her store’s position within it. It wasn’t long before Mikahra, Elise and their beloved pet kelpie Gidgee had agreed on the move to Binalong.

Mikhara with pet kelpie Gidgeee

Mikhara with pet kelpie Gidgeee in front of the store’s bushranger mural. Photo: Facebook.

“She couldn’t speak more highly about it and was very passionate about it being locally stocked, and in particular this incredible blend of jams and delicious sauces that she had started up called the Binalong Bushranger Blend, which we have now taken over,” said Mikhara.

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Mikhara went to high school in Albury, so she has a rough understanding of the region and particularly recalls the cold winters. She did, however, have to be corrected when she was pronouncing the town as bin-a-long rather than bine-a-long, which would have been a surefire way to ostracise herself from locals had she continued doing so.

Neither Mikhara nor Elise understood the significance of Binalong to the broader region until their arrival. They were, however, familiar with the nearby Yass from the town’s brief appearance on Netflix’s Queer-Eye.

Old favourites from store

All the old favourites from the store plus new products, including Mikhara’s MIKS CHAI range of teas that support suicide prevention in rural Australia. Photo: Facebook.

As well as taking over the making of Binalong Bushranger Blend, they are excited to reach out to all the former suppliers and, of course, sample all the goods along the way. They do, however, plan to bring their own particular spin to the store.

“I continue to run an online tea company that funds suicide prevention. I love this idea of business as this tool for social good, and I actually had the privilege of delivering a TEDx talk on that concept early last year,” said Mikhara.

“To me, bringing more beautiful, Australian made goods to the store would be really exciting and just continue those values of supporting local, good-quality products and showcasing the region, particularly online.”

After jumping on the online community groups, they quickly identified the “vibrant and dynamic” community they were becoming a part of.

“What really spoke to me was when Elise went and asked if there were any women’s sports teams and just how many members of the community responded, and this is while we were still in Brisbane.”

Mikhara had her first training session with the Binalong Jersey Girls last Friday (4 February). It’s just one example of several instances that have made them feel at home in Binalong.

“We’re loving it so far and just looking forward to running the store,” said Elise.

“We’ve been so heartened. Everyone’s been so friendly and genuine about making us feel welcome. We feel like we’ve hit the jackpot.”

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They’ve enjoyed their weekend trips to the surrounding townships of Harden, Young and Boorowa and are looking forward to visiting more places as they settle in. They’re also quite pleased with the fact that they now have a cafe as a neighbour.

Mikhara and Elise will open the store on Sunday 13 February from 10 am to 2 pm. To find out more about what they offer or to stay updated on their journey, follow The Binalong Old Produce Store Facebook page.

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