A swig of Summer Gin from The Canberra Distillery, some Sticky Plum Sauce from Queanbeyan, a bar of spice-scented soap from Bungendore, a miniature bottle of Strawberry and Ginger Dessert Sauce from Murrumbateman, black garlic from Braidwood, and a Christmas candle from Yass.
All of that and more has been artfully packaged into a tray to create our region’s very own advent calendar, offering familiar tastes and smells to anyone who lives in and around the ACT.
The ‘Canberra Region Advent Calendar’ by Sharwood Hampers compiles 24 mini products from various small businesses across Canberra and the surrounding region, with a very distinct Christmas theme.
The company already offers a number of other hampers and gift baskets, but Sharwood Hampers’ founder Sharon Isherwood (see what she did there?) began plotting the advent calendar earlier this year, reaching out to her existing local suppliers to see if they could shrink their packaging to make it work.
“This is the first year for the calendar and I haven’t seen anyone else do anything similar,” Sharon says.
However, the story really begins many years earlier, in New Zealand.
Sharon was asked to put together some gifts for the teachers of a school her children attended and struck upon the idea of “baskets of goodies”.
“The teachers and parents alike loved these gift baskets and I really enjoyed the process too.”
Sharon came to Australia in 1997 and says that despite being married to an Australian for the bulk of that time, still carries a thick Kiwi accent.
The couple moved to Canberra in 2003, but as her husband worked in the military, a number of moves took place before the two could settle down and make a life for themselves here.
“I knew that I needed to do something and I thought that maybe I could prepare gift baskets for a living.”
In much the same way as bringing smiles to the faces of teachers, Sharon wanted to feel like she was making a difference and so hit upon the idea of involving small local providers.
“Our main focus is that all products are sourced from Canberra as well as the surrounding region, such as Bungendore, Braidwood, Murrumbateman, Yass and Goulburn,” she says.
The furthermost item is the cheese, which hails from a dairy farm at Tilba.
“I did a lot of research to find these businesses using the internet and phone book and other means, and talked to them about this idea I had to create premium food hampers using their products.”
She says there are many brands in the calendar that not even many locals will know about, and the end result is a “good mix of sweet and savoury, snacks, sauces, spices and drinks”.
“We’ve tried to make it so it really suits what’s happening in December.”
COVID-19 lockdowns saw a swing towards grazing boxes and hampers and Sharon said they enjoyed a fairly hectic time with “fantastic” flow-on effects for the suppliers too.
“We’ve been going crazy trying to keep up with supply and so have the local suppliers and that’s been great for them. We’ve actually been able to keep some of them afloat during COVID-19.”
As for plans for the future, Sharon says she hope to expand to a bigger space and employ more staff.
“We do employ a number of staff over the busy festive season but it would be great to employ more and therefore support more and more of these local start-ups.”
The Canberra Region Advent Calendar costs $198 and will be available for pick-up or delivery from 1 November.
Original Article published by James Coleman on The RiotACT.