In early March, on the long drive back to the Bega Valley from her seasonal job running an ecolodge on Christmas Island, which closed due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Jess Bray wondered how she could find opportunities in what appeared to be a bleak future.
“One thing I love when I’m in the Bega Valley area is going to the local markets so my business partner, Pat [Guinane], and I started to think about how to help get small local producers online and get them in front of the kind of audience that summer tourism usually brings,” says Jess.
And so Markets Local was born, which showcases products from Bega Valley businesses Sea Health Products, Brooke Hume Tattoo & Fine Art, Japanese Creations, Saarinen Organics and Maloola Natural Skincare.
Jess and Pat are keen to get as many local producers on their recently launched site as possible and will provide digital expertise, a marketing budget and administrative support in exchange for a small commission on any products sold through the site.
“We know many small business owners struggle to balance the creative aspects of their business with the technology and promotion aspects,” says Jess.
As part of their service, Jess and Pat feature daily social media posts promoting products on the site.
“We’ll produce engaging content on social medial to raise consideration of local products,” she says. “We’ll have daily posts across Instagram and Facebook promoting products on the site.”
Jess adds that the time has never been better to launch a site such as Markets Local.
“It’s a very relevant time to reach a broader audience because so many people who usually come to the Far South Coast on holiday are still wanting to support the area after the summer bushfires. Now they can do so easily by visiting one website, just like attending a market and browsing stalls.”
In the brief period following the past summer’s bushfires and before COVID-19 restrictions came into force, local businesses felt a surge of support through campaigns such as Empty Esky, says Sea Health Products owner Jo Lane, whose kelp products are available on Markets Local.
“People are really wanting to help South Coast businesses which have been hit with the double whammy of fires and COVID-19 travel restrictions,” says Jo. “We’ve had a lot of online support as a result. It’s a nice outcome from difficult times.”
Jo usually attends the farmers markets in Bermagui and Moruya with her kelp products, as well as annual events such as the Tilba Easter Festival and Narooma Oyster Festival, which have all been compromised due to COVID-19. Although it should be noted the Bermagui Growers Market is now open.
“I think of markets as a way to promote our products locally,” says Jo. “Just to be in people’s vision and have the chance for them to ask questions and try things. Markets are a great opportunity for educating and advertising.”
Sea Health Products was badly hit by the summer bushfire season, especially because December to February is the best time to harvest kelp, which grows big and heavy during winter and is washed up in summer storms.
“The water quality meant harvesting wasn’t really possible for much of this summer,” says Jo. “Let alone our headspace!”
However, promoting her local, sustainable product remains a passion for Jo, as does supporting other local businesses, which is why she did not hesitate to join Markets Local.
“We’ve collaborated with one of the other businesses on Markets Local, Saarinen Organics, which has used our kelp to make a really nourishing hand cream for people who have been hand-washing in response to COVID-19 and have dry, cracked skin,” explains Jo.
It’s not quite the same as popping to the stall next door at a local market, but it is the next best thing.
For more information, or to showcase your local Bega Valley products, visit the Markets Local website.