From surveying ancient ruins in Greece to building B&B accommodation and a flourishing business in regional New South Wales, it’s clear to see that community-minded Tara Toomey is determined to ensure the dust doesn’t settle on her beloved New England region. Studies in Classics and Ancient History at UNE led Tara to work as part of an archaeological survey project in Greece in 1998, an entire world away from Uralla where she was raised. As with any project, all good things must come to an end.
Little did Tara know that her decision to accept a branch role with NRMA in Sydney, before moving to the Customer Relations Unit would, in many ways, prove to be Tara’s ticket home. Andrew, a local and passionate Uralla-rite and very well regarded Chartered Accountant, had just headed to Sydney for a stint in the big smoke. Meanwhile, Tara was searching for a good accountant and as they say the rest is history!
Their dream began to take shape when a five acre block on the edge of Uralla was purchased in 2004. Tara and Andrew were married in November 2005 and expanded their family in 2008 and again in 2012 with Jacob and Helena. In conjunction with her dad, a retired builder, Tara and Andrew set about slowly building what is today known as Aurelia’s Farm, opened on April 12, 2012, complete with cottage, shed, family home and commercial kitchen.
The journey has not been quick and has taken significant perseverance. Commencing in 2004 with an occasional market stall, Tara focussed on goods that were tricky to make at home. Her much sought after nougat was there from the start. Whilst on maternity leave and with a six-month old baby, Tara seized the opportunity to start her own business and carve a future for herself to ensure she would never return to work for someone else. While caring for Jacob full time and overseeing the construction of their home, Tara slowly established herself, attending markets three to four times a month and cooking twice weekly for a local shop. Momentum was halted when Tara fell pregnant with Helena and suffered from debilitating sickness throughout her pregnancy. However, like anyone willing to succeed in business, Tara modified her business plan and met the challenge. With the goals altered slightly, Tara focused on completing the build and getting the B&B running before later re-establishing the cooking business. It didn’t take long for the B&B to take off, and with one tiny baby and a toddler it was an exhausting yet satisfying year.
If running her own multi-faceted successful business and raising a family was not enough, Tara was elected councillor on the Uralla Shire Council in September of last year. An achievement in recognition of her community involvement and commitment to working behind the scenes to promote her region. One crowning achievement is Seasons of New England, the company she spearheads that is designed to showcase New England businesses, no matter how small, and provide a meaningful platform for them to be discovered year round. The pinnacle being an annual expo held in Uralla. Their most recent expo on March 25 was an astounding success and definitely an event you should put in your diary for next year.
The next goal for the Toomey family is the all important search for the perfect dog to join their legendary farm cat Max and twelve chickens who are named after a hodge podge of characters from books and ABC4Kids shows. If you’re ever in the area, I know a comforting place to stay and a family who would welcome your visit at Aurelia’s Farm. Learn more about Tara’s inspiration and business insights in her interview below.
What are you most proud of?
Lots of things – my family, my husband, my kids. We have grown the confectionery business beyond our home now and have just started work on an extension to our shed, which will become our new commercial kitchen.
You’ve obviously made a genuine commitment to support local growers and farmers. Why is that such an important part of your philosophy?
I believe that if we lift collectively the end result is far, far greater than if we lift as individuals. By that, I mean that if we take an altruistic approach, if we lift those who struggle, as well as those who are strong, then the community as a whole benefits. When the community benefits, then the benefits to the individual are also greater. My personal experience is that people in small rural communities do this exceptionally well.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Be who you are, be true to yourself. It is said often but it can always be said more. I am amazed by the number of people who copy someone else’s business style rather than develop their own. They don’t succeed because it hasn’t come from them, it hasn’t come from the heart. They can never deliver it as well as if they had just taken the time to deliver something that they do believe in, something that is reflective of who they are.
What do you think really helped you to grow your small business?
Sheer. Bloody. Determination.
What does a typical day look like at Aurelia’s Farm?
During school term, Jacob catches the school bus at our gate at 7.45am, then I take Helena to preschool by around 8.30am. Then I head off to a meeting or back home to clean or cook. By 2.45 I am back to collect Helena and then I try to minimise the work for a while to hear about her day. Then Jacob gets home at 4.15 and I spend time with both kids. Andrew leaves for work by around 7.30 -8 each morning, but often earlier, and he is home around 6.30, but of course there are nights where he needs to work late too. Usually I pick up my work again once Andrew gets home and work until 11pm or so. Then I get some sleep and around 3am my brain clicks in and I usually get another 1-3 hours done before it all starts again.
What’s the best thing about what you do?
Being able to be there for my family, I have been able to breastfeed both my children until they were 2 and 2 and a half yrs old, and I can take them to and from school and preschool, get to lunch with Andrew once in a blue moon and more. I enjoy the flexibility that the hard work affords me, we have to be careful to make the time to appreciate it though. We never took a holiday until 2014 – not something to be proud of – but now we make a point of at least one – two weeks a year for family time, somewhere good for us all to relax and reconnect.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?
Greece. I am on a mission to take the kids back to the places I worked on during that archaeological project. Andrew and I backpacked for 10 weeks before we got married, and so while Andrew has seen much of it, there are some great places I’d really like to take him too.
Name three inspirational women you admire.
That’s a great question. I don’t really have three to name, but what I do make a point of doing is reading about and listening to the stories of other women who want to make a difference. Their stories and their journey is always worth hearing about, always inspirational.
If you could time travel, would you go to the past or the future?
Definitely the past – 5th century BC Greece, and Rome.
What’s next in the pipeline?
Well the kitchen will mean I am able to get out to lots more markets and foodie events so that is really exciting. I have missed being a stallholder as much as I used to; I appreciate the feedback and customer connection. I have some new ideas for our B&B and also for Seasons of New England, but they will take some work yet.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just beginning to chase their dream, what would it be?
I have learnt that pursuing my dreams was not entirely optional. I am a better person because I worked out a way to do it, but it took a lot of time and a lot of planning. The ten years I spent working for someone else I treated as a training ground for running my own show one day; I just didn’t know what that show would look like. It is worth putting the research in, it is key to think it through, but it is also important to not think it through so much that you miss the opportunities that come your way. It is very hard to know when to leap and when to stay on the boat, but at some point you do have to make the leap if you want to start that chase under your own steam.