The entrepreneur turning tragedy around, one milk bottle at a time

The entrepreneur turning tragedy around, one milk bottle at a time

For many entrepreneurs, the stories which led them to founding their own successful ventures are incredibly personal.

Some want to create a solution to a problem only they can see, and others spend weeks searching for a particular product only to realise they can just invent it themselves.

For Sallie Jones, the founder of Gippsland Jersey, a milk operation in rural Victoria, the story of how she started her company is devastatingly personal.

The Australian milk crisis sent shockwaves around the country in 2015 when milk producers around the country suddenly had the rug pulled out from underneath them, sending many businesses deep into the red.

With their finances in tatters, the dairy industry effectively collapsed onto itself; the big dairy players like Murray Goulburn and Fonterra paying producers only a fraction of what they had initially been promisted. 

Though there was a sustained public campaign to try and support Australian dairy farmers, it was unfortunately too late for many who had already lost everything.

Despite the crisis starting nearly two years ago, as Jones tells Business News Australia, the farmers are still going through it.

"The crisis is still happening," says Jones.

"The industry says the crisis is over, but when you speak to the farmers and you hear these stories and the fallout and the mental ripple effect it is absolutely ongoing."

"It only happened a year and a half ago you don't just all of a sudden get a blank cheque and you're back on track."

Jones' company, Gippsland Jersey, is a milk company built from the ashes of a traumatic period in Jones' life.

Growing up, Jones lived and breathed the milk industry. She was raised on a dairy farm in Lakes Entrance where her father built an ice-cream brand called Rivera Ice Cream, made from his own milk & cream.

Her father was a stern believer that milk companies were harming producers in the region.

"My family always believed you never made any money by supplying a milk company, so both my grandfather and my dad worked off farm supplementing their income," says Jones.

Jones never really planned to get into the milk business; instead she went to university to study public relations. Whilst studying in Melbourne,

Jones got her first taste of entrepreneurship by selling raw milk at farmers markets.

Without all hands on deck, Jones' father began to suffer from mental illness after leasing the family farm.

"He had to sell the business because there was no family around anymore the business was very reliant on us all chipping in to help," says Jones.

"Then he lost his identity and didn't know how to enjoy himself because he worked 18 hours of the day forever. He developed mental health issues and struggled with depression before taking his own life."

This devastating personal tragedy came just two months before the milk industry was rocked by the crisis. One of Jones' friends ended up losing $180,000 in a day.

Jones' created Gippsland Jersey in an effort to breathe life back into the industry and support a tight-knit farming community in crisis. 

"I just had this enormous sense of knowing that I've got to make this happen and bring some positivity back to the industry. My dad didn't teach me all these things to just turn away and not do anything," says Jones.

Three months after conceiving the idea of Gippsland Jersey, a community owned and independent milk company that gives back at every opportunity, Jones had milk in a bottle and started selling to Victorian stores immediately.

A year and a half later, Jones is now preparing to stock 12 Woolworths stores in Gippsland and has developed the three pillars which she says keeps her business afloat.

"The first pillar is the milk has to be sold at a fair price for the farmer. The second is around smashing the mental health stigma in rural Gippsland, especially amongst men. We're not ashamed to talk about and have those conversations, especially across our social media. And the third pillar is kindness, because it truly is the best thing that anyone can show another human being," says Jones.

Whilst there is still a while to go for the dairy farmers across Australia, Jones is hoping her brand will not only bring financial fortune back to Gippsland, but also rebuild a shattered community in the process.

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