Ben and Meghan Garnock are celebrating, (pictured above with young Sam). And there is much to celebrate. June 3rd marks their first anniversary as owners of The Dorrigo Butcher. It also means Ben has completed his first year as an apprentice Butcher and the couple have survived their first year as new business owners. “You could say it has been a true baptism of fire. Drought, fires, Covid, new business, new industry and new community. But we are still smiling,” says Ben.
One can’t help but ask the obvious. Who would buy a new business in a completely new industry in a new town? However, queuing for service, (albeit adhering to the current social distancing guidelines), and being entertained by the banter amongst the Dorrigo locals and the friendly Butchery staff, one quickly realises that this young couple of optimists are already an integral part of the Dorrigo landscape.
They have certainly had a remarkable and meandering journey getting here. The couple met studying in Sydney. Ben studied Civil Engineering and Meghan International Studies, majoring in Development. They shared a dream of working and contributing overseas, which became a reality when Ben secured a role as an advisor with ‘Engineers without Borders’ in Cambodia and Meghan a role with Australians for International Development in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
“Our time in Cambodia was life changing and has shaped all of our decisions since,” says Ben. “We gained a true sense of family and community, working and living amongst Cambodian people. Cambodians view their work colleagues as their second family. Every lunchtime was a communal coming together, a sharing of food and friendship. Everyone is included. We knew when we were leaving Cambodia we wanted to find that same community spirit and family connection.”
And hence the move to Dorrigo. Meghan’s family have owned a property outside Dorrigo for 18 years. “We wanted to bond again with my family and contribute to the family farm,” says Meghan. For the past two years the farm has been producing sheep. The plan was to help grow the business, while exploring other opportunities with food, capitalising on what the farm could produce in other areas.
One quickly realises that Ben and Meghan’s entrepreneurship is as strong as their sense of community. They are also self-confessed ‘foodies’, so when the Dorrigo Butchery serendipitously came onto the market, the couple decided to take the leap. “We have learnt a lot. It has been a tumultuous year, but we have been blessed with the support of our local community, which keeps our spirits up. I mean, what else can go wrong, unless Dorrigo is hit by locusts!”
The family farm is now supplying 80% of their yearly lamb needs and capacity is only growing. Most of the other produce sold at the butchery is sourced locally, in keeping with their values and the values of their community. “We are lucky to live in a region that has a wealth of produce to choose from; seafood, pasture-raised beef and lamb, veggies, fruit, spices & nuts, and all of it is local, seasonal and available. With the current pandemic people are looking not just for the lowest price, but also for the best quality produce for their money. When you buy local, you can ask where it was grown, how it was grown, and when it was harvested. Produce that is generated in huge quantities lacks the care and consideration of a local operation, and customers tell us that this is worth paying for,” says Ben.
As the local community have supported them, Ben and Meghan are advocates for giving back and supporting the other local businesses. “We want this region to not only survive, but thrive. Shopping local means local businesses are sustainable and we don’t see empty shops. Money spent locally supports family businesses, and this flows onto other jobs in the town in important areas such as education, health, and more small businesses. A thriving town has a network of volunteers, service clubs, community support and cultural events that in turn attract more people to the area. With thriving regional areas come amazing holiday destinations and food experiences, and ongoing relationships that bring people back to the same area,” says Meghan.
Their optimism and enthusiasm for the future of their new community and the possibilities for their new business is palpable. So is their commitment to quality and authenticity, and it shows. “We’ve spent the past year listening to our customers. They tell us what they value, what they like, and what they want to see,” says Ben. The traditional country town butchery has certainly had a subtle but distinct facelift over the past year, including new products on offer for their customers. But locals are happy and that’s what counts.