Eli’s pinecone business is a family affair with roots dating back 200 years

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“My name is Eli and I am the boss of my own company.”

Not bad for an 11 year old.

Eli Jones first thought of selling pine cones “like four years ago”, when he was six years old. Last year, his plan came to fruition and he launched Mr. Eli Pine Cone.

Pine cones are popular as fire starters and as mulch around trees and plants.

The business plan is relatively simple: pick pine cones at Grandma’s near Millicent on the Limestone Coast in South Australia, bag pine cones, sell pine cones.

“The hardest part is that we have to wrap them up after we’ve got them all,” Eli says.

“We try to get the ones that aren’t broken because some of them don’t have the little sticks on them that actually make them flammable.”

Harvesting and bagging of pine cones is done mainly during the drier months.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

‘Marketing, work ethic and all that’

Picking is mostly done during the drier months, so the cones can be stored ready for winter.

It really is a team effort, as thousands of pine cones have to be collected from her grandmother’s property, which has been in the family for 200 years and has many old trees.

How long it takes to collect them all, however, is a bit of a blur. Eli suggests 20 minutes for a half-truck, while his mother Em insists it takes the family a few hours to pick up a load.

If Eli is the boss and the face of the company, then Em is CEO.

Two boys fight over an old tire while a woman sitting on a log in the background laughs as they watch.
Eli Jones with his mother Em (right) and brother Taylor (left) at the farm near Millicent, SA.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

“[She’s] very good for editing a lot of things [for online] … I’m normally like, ‘Yeah, that’s good’ the first time.”

The bags contain around 39 pine cones according to Eli and sell for $20 online. Since its launch last year, the business has grown steadily.

“When you start, you have to persuade people to keep buying more, that’s why we made the starting offer. If they place a return order, they’ll get $5 off.”

A pair of child's brown suede boots stand on a tree stump.
Eli Jones at his grandparents’ estate near Millicent.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

It also inquires about supply and demand.

Last year, Eli underestimated the popularity of his pinecone business.

His stock of 40 bags – totaling around 1,500 pine cones – sold out quickly and he had to stop taking orders.

“We will have to triple the picking stock this season to avoid running out,” says Em.

Future vision, with 200 years of history

Although eager to use his birth certificate to open a bank account for his savings, most of Eli’s pocket money currently goes to Roblox, a game on his tablet.

An account would help him in his plan to expand the business – merchandise and a shop.

Fallen pine cones dot a grassy field.
Eli and his family collected thousands of pine cones from his grandmother’s property.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

“And people can go there and we can sell them pine cones.”

For now, the bags are stored with Eli’s grandmother, Jan Kane.

The property and the pine cones on it have belonged to her husband’s family for over 200 years.

“All the fires were open fires back then. Because every room in the house had fireplaces, open fires, you pretty much had to sit on the fires to get heat from them,” explains Jan.

“I would say they probably used a lot of pinecones too.

A woman, two children and a dog walk between tall pine trees on a farm property,
Eli searches for pine cones with his grandmother, Jan, and his younger brother, Taylor.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Jan says it’s comforting to see her grandson take an interest in it.

“Eli always had a thing about picking up pinecones… [he] likes being here and doesn’t like going home most of the time,” says Jan.

“As kids they love freedom, they love having space to run around in.”

Would Eli recommend the company to other kids like him?

“Yeah. Because they have to learn the traits and have a good work ethic,” Eli says.

A boy stands on a tree log smiling with a hand on his hip.
Eli is keen to continue the trade.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)
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