Growing gold in Beechworth

Meet the team L to R: Kathleen Stackpole, Jesse Matthews and Jo Sutherland

This is a transcript of an unpeeled podcast interview with Kathleen Stackpole of Goldfields Greengrocer in Beechworth. You can also listen here.

In small towns and city suburbs, many small and independent food retailers have faded away. They’ve been replaced by supermarkets and giant food and grog retail chains. Although only a small town of some 4,000 residents, Beechworth demonstrates a unique strength in food and drink that reflects the location and its history by still enjoying the presence of some key independent staples: a greengrocer, butcher, bakers and wine store.

The town has had some sort of grocery store since at least 1852, when the first gold was discovered in the region. I think many Beechworth people would agree that Goldfields Greengrocer on Ford Street is a key to the local food scene. Now owned by Kathleen Stackpole – although many think of her as Kathleen Mim – Kathleen is the daughter of Fay and the late Peter Mim. The Mim family has kept the town nourished with local food for more than 26 years including from their own market garden.

Hello everyone. I’m Peter Kenyon and welcome to another podcast from unpeeled press, where I explore the food culture of Northeast Victoria.

A small store, Goldfields Greengrocer, nonetheless represents a real heart of the Beechworth community. It’s a place to catch up with neighbours and a place to connect with local food producers from our town and beyond.

And I recently caught up with Kathleen at the shop for a chat about her business.

Peter

Tell me about the shop. How long has the business been going?

Kathleen

Okay, the business. I don’t know exactly when it started. People of older Beechworth will remember there was a fruit shop around, next to the bakery, which Alex Grec was owning at that time. Then he moved it up to the Star Hotel, which is next door to us, next door to Kathryn Hammerton, and sold it. And it was a small little concern. And it’s coming up 26 years in 1st of July, my Mum and Dad bought it. They stayed there for about five years I think it was and then when Boyd’s butcher shop closed, we moved into the bigger premises. So it’s been in the family for 26 years. I’ve been here I’m about to click over 21 years.

Peter

And were your family food retailers originally?

Kathleen

No, we’d never done retail. So it was actually quite a surprise when Dad piped up one day and said, I’m going to open a shop. And we went, you’re the most non-person person. Anyway, that was all good. And I’d been in retail through my youth.

Peter

Food retail?

Kathleen

No clothing.

Peter

Food is very different: use by dates …

Kathleen

It is very different! We’ve always had a garden. Always had a big, major garden and we’d always grown vegetables for people and things like that. And Dad was a cook at Mayday Hills and Mum was a home economics teacher. So there’s been food in the family. And plus Dad being European and Mum coming from a very big family, they’d always had vege gardens. So food was – food’s in the veins, but not retail.

Peter

So you almost had too much food and you’ve still got a big garden, which supplies …

Kathleen

Still got a big garden which supplies the shop.

Peter

For a lot of things.

Kathleen

All sorts of fruits and veges.

Peter

All year round.

Kathleen

All year round, all year round. Every day, there’s something picked from the garden and brought in. It might be just lemons or it might be sometimes we fill the ute full. So it just depends what’s on the go and how we’re going.

Peter

And who manages the garden because that’s a big, that’s a big job in itself. Running a shop that operates seven days a week is bigger than big. And then you’ve got another big one.

Kathleen

Well, it’s my Mum Fay and my husband Daff and myself. Dad was the major one. He did it until he passed away. And then when he passed away, we went, we can’t let this go. This soil has been worked for 45 years. There’s a funny story of Dad and Mum owning a house in High Street. This is when I was four years old. And when they bought the property out in Lower Stanley Road, Dad took five trailerloads of dirt from his garden because he wanted that dirt. So some of the dirt is the original dirt from 50 odd years. So we went, we can’t let this go. We still need to do all this, so let’s take it on. So that’s when I stepped into the garden about six years ago.

Peter

And you’ve been tilling the dirt of the garden and figuratively of the shop as well so when your father died, you didn’t want to let the shop go either.

Kathleen

No. So we just, I owned the shop when Dad passed away, I already had the shop, but that was just a, I went, oh, I’m going to morph into Pete. Okay, excellent. Ha ha.

Peter

There are worse things than turning into your father I think.

Kathleen

There are. And then of course we have the jam business as well. So we make all the jams and sauces and chutneys. Most of the veggies comes from the garden. Mum’s got about five acres out there and it used to be on the outskirts of town. Now we’re pretty much right in the middle of town because of the growth. But it’s very fun and it’s great. And it’s a good diversity. And I actually get where Dad was going. I used to say, why do you do all this extra work and why are you doing this? But it brings you into the veges more. That interest grows and you become more aware of what you’re stocking in the shop due to the veges. So it does actually help a lot.

Peter

Tell me about retail and working seven days a week. Have you ever been shut? Has the shop ever closed?

Kathleen

Yes, we have closed. Well, we’re coming up to our 26th year. So for 26 years the shop has been closed 27 days in that time. And that was the 26 Christmas Days and the day we buried Dad. Otherwise through all sorts of things that have happened in our family, which has been some trauma, it has always remained open. It’s always been open the times that we advertise. We’ve never … One day I closed an hour early ’cause my dog got bitten by a snake.

Peter

It’s a huge commitment. I don’t think people realize, and it’s not just the hours that you’re open. There’s the hours before and the hours after. And are you working today officially?

Kathleen

Yeah. I work every day. Every day, whether I’m sitting at home doing bookwork. People think I don’t work as much now but I’ll be in the garden. Bookwork: I’ll be researching ways to plant things and do things better, we’ll be picking up stock and doing all that. But it’s now become what I do. I don’t do anything else, but work. And some people would go, oh, that’s boring or that’s whatever. But when you can put your hundred percent heart into something, it becomes lovely and it’s easy. And when I’ve got such fantastic staff I could not be doing it without those two out there. They’re amazing.

Peter

And that’s Jo and …

Kathleen

Jessie, and now my daughter, Holly has come back into the business a couple of days a week too. And they’re just incredible. They also need the recognition because they’re the ones that keep me going. And my husband, Daff, he does all the home stuff so that I can do all this stuff. So he does all the cooking and cleaning and stuff. So I get to just concentrate on work. So I’m very, very lucky. I consider myself extremely lucky to be in a town like this, doing a job like this.

Peter

And I think Beechworth is very lucky as a result too.

Kathleen

Well, I hear that. And I just go pfft. That’s just, you know, we just opened the shop and someone once said to me – this was a long time ago – said, so what’s your five-year business plan? I said, we open that door in the morning and we close it at night and that’s my business plan. That’s always been my business plan and that’s all that I hope to do. But it’s the generosity of the Beechworth community in supporting us as well.

Peter

You’re one of the reasons we moved here. I’ve told you that before. A major, a major reason.

Kathleen

I have heard that before. I’ve heard that from other people as well. And I get all like, um, kick the dirt and look at my feet and go, well yeah, I just hope it keeps going because it’s great. I think it’s a really nice shop. I think when I end up, I hope that somebody buys it and it goes on the way it is because Beechworth needs a shop like this.

Peter

It does indeed. Every town does and we’re lucky to have one because most don’t. Kathleen, tell me about local food. What’s special? And seasonality.

Kathleen

Well the good thing about living in this area is that we have a lot of seasonality. We’re very, very lucky, and we’re very lucky with the amount of producers we have from nuts to corn, to pumpkins, to berries. And we have so much, and so many people doing so many great, so much great stuff. And my aim is I buy as much as I can from the local people. And then I go, I don’t go market and then local, I go local, then market. And that’s not just in the fruit and veg that’s in everything. If I can get a salami or a coffee or something that’s local, or even down to the ghee and the sauerkrauts and stuff, I go there first and then I go to the big boys. I’m finding that my big boy stuff is reducing dramatically by the excellent stuff people are doing around this area. It’s fantastic. I can get pasta or pasta sauces. You can get terrines. You can get anything you really want to, you can get it here. And if you don’t want to eat anything that’s not local, then you can actually just survive really nicely on local and where we are presently in the world it’s fantastic. We get local flour. We can get local rice from New South Wales, but it’s Australian rice. It’s here.

Peter

And it’s not far away from here. We’re in a magic part of the world.

Kathleen

Yeah. It’s incredible. We’re very, very lucky and people are very envious of what we have in Beechworth. And the middle table just shows, it just fills up and it’s just beautiful.

Peter

And the Middle Table is where you celebrate all the local stuff. And you take stuff from local residents if they’ve got too many things on the tree.

Local harvesting from the Middle Table

Kathleen

We can take them in. Which helps them as well. And that’s that whole thing of community sharing. And there’s nice things like we have a lady at the moment who’s been bringing in bunches of flowers every week for us and swapping them over every week. And she just does that because she wants the community to enjoy her garden. And it’s beautiful. She doesn’t charge me. I said, I’ll give you money for it. And we’ll do something, you know. And she’s like no, I just love bringing it. It just sits on the thing and everyone comments on them. And it’s just lovely.

Kathleen

It’s just nice. And it’s nice to look after our local people and people get a real kick out of the fact that like, we’ll remember that they were going off to their daughter’s place or something and they’ll come back in and we’ll go, oh, hi, how was your trip? And they go, I can’t believe you remember. And I go but that’s the little stuff that you don’t get in the big supermarkets and if we don’t see someone for a while, you know we try and connect with them and talk to other people and say, oh, have you seen such and such? I haven’t seen them. Do you think they’re okay? And we try and network a bit in that. Looking after the health of people, rather than just them being a customer. People that shop here regularly aren’t just a customer. An example is I’ve got a bit of broccoli growing at the moment and I’ve got a little girl in town that absolutely loves my broccoli so I’m bringing some in for her tomorrow just to give to her. There’s bag of broccoli. She’s going to be ecstatic. Her Mum was so excited when I told her yesterday. She’s like, yaaaay! And that’s what it’s about.

Peter

It is about all of that.

Kathleen

And you don’t want money for that. You just go, here! Have some, so yeah.

Peter

Kathleen, thank you very much. It’s been a great little chat and I really appreciate the time.

Kathleen

That’s alright.

Peter

We’ve been trying to do this for a long time.

Kathleen

I know. We’re very busy people!

Peter

We are.

Thank you for listening, please leave a comment or a suggestion at the unpeeled.press website. Or find me on Facebook or Twitter. A special thank you to Charles Sturt University for its support in getting the podcasts underway through the Community University Partnership grants, and a special shout out to Dr Sarina Kilham from Charles Sturt and Dr Nick Rose from Sustain Australia for their help and advice. Theme music by Avocado Junkie. See you next time!

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