Organic pioneers overcome the drought

After 12 years running businesses together in Portland, Oregon, Carissa Wolfe and Karyn Cassar founded their first Australian venture, organic dairy business Benmar Farm, in December 2013. The duo do things differently – unlike other dairy farms, Benmar Farm is home to a dual-purpose breed of cow, the Fleckvieh, that provides greater value as both a milk producer and a beef producer. The cows are also bred organically for the health and longevity of both the cow and the land. “We want to see a conscious connection return between ‘we that eat’ (all of us) and the land, animals and farmers that our food comes from,” Carissa says.

Ongoing climate risks and situations no amount of risk analysis could have predicted have been overcome in no small part due to the synergy between the girls, which has been critical to everything they’ve done. “It’s the core fire under it all,” Carissa explains.

The business partners always seek to challenge themselves with a mindset and focus of “always learn, always analyse, always cross-apply, always challenge the answer ‘that’s how it’s done’.”

Benmar farm is now fully certified organic; audits ensuring compliance to organic standards continue annually, but the “conversion” phase was completed in May 2018.

“This is a significant milestone in that

we completed the process on essentially a ‘conventional’ milk price whilst operating our farm under full organic standards for the entire period, despite our costs incurring an ‘organic’ pricing premium’,” Carissa says. “Because of our long-term vision, we’ve been able to impact local processing to implement a ‘conversion to organic’ premium price to assist other farmers to begin the journey with more support.”

Carissa and Karyn have continued to hit their targets, in spite of difficulties each year such as the recent drought and the challenge of the conversion process to organic without compensatory income. After four years of active growth, the last year has been spent stabilising the business, making the daily micro-decisions required to survive in and accomplish their macro vision for Benmar Farm.

Over the next 12 months Carissa and Karyn plan to increase the urban-farm connections they’re able to facilitate and bring more product to market directly – current offerings are farm “immersion” tours and beef – with a strong emphasis on social enterprise and industry impact.

This story first appeared in issue 24 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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