Michelle Jones and Ron Geritz
Determination to live in country Victoria led alumni Michelle Jones (BSc(Hons) 1988, DipEd 1990) and Ron Geritz (BSc(Hons) 1988, DipEd 1990) to teaching and then to an unexpected business opportunity in China.
“After Ron and I graduated we found a beautiful block of land on five acres in Neerim South and needed to find employment in the area so that we could live there. We went back to Monash to do a DipEd and became secondary teachers in Warragul,” Ms Jones said.
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The Blerick Tree Farm, which the couple run together, was born out of their need to make the land income producing.
“We started the tree farm as a part time “hobby” but it grew and grew and eventually we decided to make it a serious business. Ron left teaching first and eight years ago I gave up teaching to concentrate on the business,” Ms Jones said.
“The business has continued to grow and a few years ago we were approached by a consortium of Chinese business people to help them grow trees in China.”
The Chinese government’s goal is to have 30 per cent of urban areas dedicated to green space and there are many developing second and third tier cities that need to comply with this target. This has increased the demand for landscaping and the need to grow trees commercially, an industry that is undeveloped in China.
“We are not sure how the Chinese consortium found us. They could have gone anywhere in the world—there are big tree industries in the US and Europe. We think it may have been as simple as our website coming up in an internet search and the fact that one of their partners lived in Melbourne and was able to visit us,” Ms Jones said.
“The next thing we knew we were on a plane to China to meet the other partners and learn about their plans. That was more than two years ago. It was a big leap of faith but has turned out well. We have been to China about seven times since then. It has been an exciting, wild ride.”
There is no precedent for the export of trees to China from Australia and there are a number of regulations that need to be worked through before that can happen. At present Blerick Tree Farm is providing advice on the purchase of trees from the US and helping the consortium partners set up their own tree farms. The aim is to eventually develop an export market.
“We are trying to maximise our potential in a whole new market. We are pioneers—we don’t really know where it will lead as there is no one else to follow,” Ms Jones said.
When Ms Jones commenced her science degree she had no idea what she wanted to do as a career. At the time she chose to continue the subjects that she had enjoyed in high school.
Although Ms Jones’ degree does not have a direct application to managing a tree farm she feels that a formal degree is like a certificate of confidence that you can achieve at higher levels.
“My memories of Monash are of learning, experiencing a different life style and developing new friendships; At university you get to meet people who are likeminded,” Ms Jones said.
“Coming from an all girls’ catholic school I had a very limited idea about what the future held for me.
“Attending Monash helped me in terms of confidence as well as depth of knowledge. It expanded my horizons and there has been no looking back since. That piece of paper at the end made me realise that I can achieve anything.”
Ms Jones also met her husband Ron at Monash.
“We became friends in first year but did not start dating until the end of our honours year,” Ms Jones said. “We have been married since 1991 and now have three teenage children.”
Ms Jones said the opportunity to expand their business into China emphasised that you should never underestimate or undervalue yourself.
“Make every day count,” she said. “Life is about the journey not the destination. Each time you reach a goal you have to think about what is next.
“The tree farm has given us the ability to be in control of our lives in more ways than just financially. “We are living in a beautiful environment and there is not one day that I don’t walk around our property and appreciate that we have space and fresh air, and enjoy a nice lifestyle.”