A drive to improve her own health has seen Elizabeth ‘Lizi’ Maskiell become a qualified nutritionist, an active community health advocate and a passionate small business owner, all while still being in her twenties. Gippslandia recently chatted to Lizi, the Director of Raw Harvest, to get a side serving of entrepreneurial spirit to accompany our main dish of raw motivation.
Firstly, we’d love to know what provoked your interest in food and nutrition?
My passion for food and community nutrition came from my ongoing health battle. As a 15-year-old I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, as well as Inflammatory Bowel Disease. At the time I was missing out on school and social activities due to the pain and discomfort.
The situation meant that I was no longer able to enjoy lots of the food I’d always loved.
Twelve years later, and gratefully, advancements in modern immunology have allowed for improved management of my symptoms. Combined with dietary regulation, exercise and daily medication, I’ve been able to retrain my body to function effectively. Now being able to effectively absorb nutrients while maintaining adequate energy levels to live a fabulous life is an enormous feat and one that I do not take for granted.
Can you please describe your story with food so far?
In 2012, I graduated with a Bachelor of Human Nutrition from Latrobe University, Bundoora Campus, with a Major in Biochemistry and a focus on behavioural eating disorders.
Throughout my degree, I was fortunate enough to participate in volunteer and cadetship
programs with the Latrobe Community Health Service. Upon graduation, I returned to the Valley for a Community Nutritionist role within the organisation. Unfortunately, not long after starting the funding for the position was lost.
While studying, I’d been working as an Optical Dispenser with Specsavers in the City. Looking for work again, I returned to Specsavers and began managing the store in Traralgon, before moving to Darwin the following year to manage two stores. I still wanted to be in Gippsland, and even though I was being steered towards a solid position at the Specsavers head office in Docklands, I knew it wasn’t my true passion.
I wanted to be able to provide more food options to those with similar dietary requirements, people looking at changing their lifestyle to prevent or manage conditions, and health conscious and time-poor individuals within the Gippsland community.
Upon returning to Gippsland I’ve become the Manager of the 50 Mile Farmers’ Markets and a team member of Get Stuffed, in the Latrobe Valley’s Food Network, for ReActivate Latrobe Valley. These roles allow me to connect with local growers, farmers and producers and assist them in connecting with buyers, promote their business and create awareness on the fabulous produce we have available in our backyards.
Then there’s my newest venture, Raw Harvest.
Simply, why do you believe our food choices are so important?
Food choices are vital! They impact on our daily life, our long-term health and the world we live in. Maintaining a healthy diet aids in disease prevention, improves mental health, lowers obesity rates and has substantial social impact.
By choosing to eat locally grown, seasonal and organic produce you are allowing farmers and producers to get a fair price for their hard efforts. You’re helping to nourish your family physically, but mentally as well. Sourcing beautiful produce teaches the next generation where food really comes from, not just a packet from the supermarket shelves.
Can you provide us with an overview of Raw Harvest?
Raw Harvest started by creating alternative recipes that were based on original family favourites to produce raw treats and health conscious food. We made pre-prepared meals in the Trafalgar Football Netball Club’s kitchen and attended local markets, while consulting with locals who were seeking professional nutritional advice. We then grew to cater for the Moe Football Netball Club and began assisting their players on performance nutrition in group and private consultations.
Now, we cater for private and corporate events, with over 200 people attending, all while adhering to the Healthy Eating Advisory Service’s ‘Traffic Light’ program. We prepare food for special events, such as weddings and family celebrations, as well as everyday pre-prepared, portion-controlled meals. We are
continually creating exciting health-conscious and intolerance-friendly food options with local, seasonal and organic produce for all to enjoy.
My dream has been to take the plunge and expand the Raw Harvest brand to include the Raw Harvest Café. This is now our community inspired space in Newborough that serves gluten free, dairy free, vegan and Low FODMAP food options at no greater price.
I strongly believe that choosing “healthier” options should not come at a higher cost. Therefore, we reduced the suggested industry margins to allow greater access to better food for all of our community.
What are some of the struggles you face in growing Raw Harvest?
Our struggles are similar to other businesses; in that we need to maintain consistency in our product to keep our wonderful, regular customers happy, while continuously striving create better experiences that entice new clientele.
As we’re based in the Latrobe Valley, we’ve frequently asked why we’d start a business in the shadow of Hazelwood’s imminent closure. My response is, why not? We live in an area full of opportunity and hope. I found a gap in the market, created a much-loved product, which became multiple products that help make our customers lives easier, and that keep our business growing.
I strongly believe that taking things slowly was the best decision I made. I started Raw Harvest while I was still working full-time, then adjusted my schedule as the workload for the business increased. I began with selling products at local markets, which kept my overheads down. When I calculated I could afford to expand the business; I then waited for just the right location.
A business has elements of risk at any stage of its lifespan, but there are definitely factors that you can account for to minimise your financial outlay until you’re more confident in your product and your timing.
What are some of the joys of operating Raw Harvest?
The greatest joy I have operating Raw Harvest is seeing people who, due to their dietary constraints, frequently miss out on enjoying great food with their loved ones (especially during celebrations), now being able to take part in the festivities without any stress or concern about how the food may affect them afterwards.
Do you think that becoming a small business operator has changed your opinions or views in any way?
Most definitely. Although, I had rather strong views about supporting farmers before I was a small business owner.
Growing up in Gippsland I’ve seen many family members and friends struggle as primary producers and artists, which prompted me to keep Raw Harvest Cafe based here, and that everything we use in the store is sourced as locally as possible. I understand the battle of working over 90 hours per week for minimal financial return to keep your dream alive.
I believe more strongly in educating staff, showing appreciation for hard work and building a team that experiences a low staff turnover. I’m aiming to achieve this by employing and up-skilling local people that have been under or unemployed for a period of time and have passions and strengths in areas that differ from my strengths, but will be complimentary as we follow the Raw Harvest vision.
It now feels as though many Gippslandians wish to eat better, but are unsure on the next steps to take.
Can you please provide some advice to them, and maybe highlight some local resources and programs that can assist in their further food education?
There’s been a wonderful shift in people wanting to improve their health and wellbeing, and I don’t believe that’ll slow down. For those wanting to eat better, the best place to start is by having a discussion with your local General Practitioner (GP) and undertaking a health check-up to determine there aren’t any underlying issues before you change your diet or exercise regime.
If you need assistance in creating a diet to improve your health or suit your lifestyle, I strongly suggest making an appointment with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or Nutritionist before following an online diet or program. As there can be instances, especially when you are cutting out food groups, where you can cause more harm than good, if not properly directed. We’re very lucky to have many health professionals within our area, so please chat to your GP for a referral.
To simply improve the quality of food you’re consuming, the best advice I can give is to not eat food from a packet. Go back to basics with fresh veg, lean cuts of meat and filling whole grains.
Who are some local food producers that are growing great produce and creating innovative or exciting brands?
There are so many! I could talk about wonderful producers all day. Some that really stand out though are: Gippsland Jersey; beautiful milk that pays our dairy farmers a fair price, and Thorpdale Organics; a beautiful farm in our rolling hills that have a roadside trading point, the “Little Green Shed”, plenty of affordable, organic produce for all to access.
You’re a fine marketer online, especially via social media, how can these platforms benefit Gippsland small business? What have you learnt while promoting your business this way?
Social media has been the backbone of our business’ success and continues to push us along every day. Social media, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram, allows for free advertising and allows you to tell your story the way you want it to be told. You can connect with your customers on another level, on top of
the face-to-face contact you have.
Even if you don’t provide a product or service that can be purchased online, by creating an online presence you can open yourself up to a whole new audience that you can speak to directly to and provide them with specific information – such as the next farmers’ market you’ll be attending.
Gippsland’s a huge area, and we Gippslanders aren’t opposed to travelling for something that we really want. Through the power of social media, you can tell your story beyond only the next town, with the touch of a button.
Finally, as this issue is exploring food production, how do you think the region can
best showcase Gippsland’s food scene?
Gippsland has some of the very best produce in the country, which on its own should be an excellent reason to visit. We have many great food-based events and markets that our locals love, but the word needs to be spread further.
A comprehensive and wide-reaching campaign that promoted the ease of local produce box delivery, provided market details and outlined how to connect with our local food network would go far in educating people on what’s available in their backyards.
Furthermore, an improved Gippsland-focused food festival, that showcases a wider selection of producers, with the purpose of developing participants’ local food networks, rather than on solely achieving day sales, would be fabulous for locals and visitors.
Anyone interested in checking out Raw Harvest can visit online, rawharvestcafe.com, in store, 18-20 Rutherglen Road, Newborough.