In our latest ‘What’s Cooking’, we hear from Carissa Wolfe, Founder of Benmar Farm Pty Ltd, an artisan dairy farm on the northern NSW coast that produces sustainable milk from humanely raised cows. Carissa is driven by her passion to work with nature rather than against it despite not always having the financial resources she’d like to have.
Dairy farming is primarily a male dominated industry and for Carissa and her partner Karyn, they’ve worked to establish themselves as award winning producers of quality milk.
Carissa is a firm believer in the power of the collective and gives less credence to the old business paradigm of competition is the only way to succeed. Carissa thrives on working with people and nature, and looks to mother earth to offer up what her business needs.
Your business name: Benmar Farm Pty Ltd
How would you describe the business you are in?
Purposeful dairy farming. When we say we’re dairy farming ‘with purpose’, we are actually using that term to pull together our business, market, and value-driven plans under one focal point. As it relates to business, we have chosen dairy as our business model. We haven’t inherited the land, married into dairy farming, or are using it as our tax-loss offset business. We want to prove that you CAN be a first-generation farmer, that you CAN run a profitable business that is a dairy, and that you CAN do it while having a food-source value system. Moreover, we want to prove that dairy farming can and should be done with social, animal and environmental welfare on a commercial scale.
You know the truth…sift any and all advice you can gather, but don’t own it: weigh it, try it, adjust it, use it, but don’t own it until you’ve proven it fits your truth.
What do you love about your work?
What I love is the high that comes from dropping our self-important, human-is-god entitlement and pursuit of busy-ness. When you allow 80 individual cows to nurture you, when you allow yourself to be aware of the cycles and systems that are in play in the micro-cosmos we are standing in right now, when you reach out from that place to make decisions, when you see the paradigm shift in the urban person’s eyes across from you as they get a glimpse of what it means to ‘drink milk’…. That’s what I love about my work.
What part of your job would you gladly give away?
The psychological/emotional weight of meeting the needs in our care when the cold, hard cash is not there – if we closeup shop, it’s lives at stake that don’t have a voice for themselves: that is true failure to us. (The mistakes and little failures along the way are just part of the course of living life to the fullest)
If you were starting out in business again today, what piece of advice would you give your younger you?
You know your truth. Don’t allow any “industry leader” or “consultant” lead you to believe you don’t – sift any and all advice you can gather, but don’t own it: weigh it, try it, adjust it, use it, but don’t own it until you’ve proven it fits your truth.
Women start business 41% of the time to solve a problem? Sometimes this means we have a great vision but don’t have enough resources to sustain our business for the long term. Tell us what resources you started your business with.
We started our dairy farm with the resource of analytical experience: we exposed ourselves to as many ‘boxes’ as we could, so that our own box was as big as we could make it. Plus integrate into our repertoire that there’s always another way to approach anything. It’s all in changing the question. We had some money saved (a large percentage of our prior incomes, but only a fraction of the capital needed), and friends and family that believe in us and our vision who have supported us in little and big ways from startup to now (we still see ourselves as in the startup phase, with natural cycles being in years, 4 years in is coming around to thinking about being established).
Because of the capital required to purchase a dairy, we lease ours as a commercial lease and thus control significantly greater asset than we could have as a purchase. I am definitely ‘co-‘ in every sense – Benmar is both Karyn and I, we share many important capabilities plus have co-contributing strengths, creating a balance and synergy that is pretty awesome to be a part of.
We’re still bootstrapping it, I have it on my goal for 2018 to see “wage” entries for us.
I can list every year the things that set us back financially and how it happened. So far it’s all been external challenges that either were completely unforeseen, or, as a result of the unforeseen, were then vulnerable to identified risks. When we, as women, are at the helm of our ship and operating from a place of truth and passion, our gift is that we are able to draw on internal resources that are meant to nurture, home/hearth-create, expand, survive. If cash-flow is the greatest risk to our businesses, then how can we manage it better, create it easier, use it wiser…from a place of our own individual truth.
As you know we are passionate about women #backingthemselves. So tell us about a time in the last twelve months that you’re really proud of.
Being chosen for the line up of Forster NSW’s music festival Grow Your Own (@growyourownforster), and then headlining it! Another huge moment was directly industry related – the Australian Legendairy campaign chooses regional ‘capitals’ every two years and then a national ‘capital’ from those finalists, and is based on the communities that dairies operate in. The local (Mid Coast) group of dairywomen nominated our community, Hannam Vale, which won the NSW title, providing prize monies to our local Picnic/Community Reserve. So good to see the light shone on these communities that support each other! (@LegendairyCapital)
The mistakes and failures along the way are just part of the course of living life to the fullest.
As we are always growing and learning, what is the one thing you would like to take time to learn more about?
For Benmar Farm, we are always pushing the boundaries of our understanding of how to work WITH nature for pure and vibrant food, instead of dominating her (which always has unintended long-term negative consequences – think global warming from volatilising carbon) . Personally, I want to explore the complexities around the relationship women have with money – it’s such an impersonal resource, like time, yet instead of using it as a tool (like time, to be wisely managed and intentionally used), we give it so much personal power and control over our lives.
The world is changing so fast and technology enables us to do so much more. We’re interested in which app you could not live without and why?
Airtable and ToDoist.
Airtable because I can create the function I need (reporting, analysis) from the data we collect with the ease of a spreadsheet, bringing in the database functionality I want without having to code or build a program for it. We fall through the cracks technologically, with programs in the US that we can’t convert to use here in Australia, or programs designed for a highly automated system that isn’t applicable to our scale even though we track data at that level. We use it for all of our livestock records, milk production records, rostering & timesheets, and will be bringing in field management in the next stage. Since it’s cloud based and allows for specialised form entry, anyone can enter data at point of information, rather than written logs piling up that need data entry. Plus, it’s exportable to csv, so any needs not capable within its program can be utilised without duplicate entry.
ToDoist because I’m memory-challenged, and it’s the only to-do list app I’ve found that I can text, email, or in-app add things on the fly in the same lingo I’m thinking in (I didn’t have to memorise how to ‘talk to it’), and it allows for repeating the way I schedule (some things are every 4th week on Monday, some things are every first Tuesday of the month)
Why did you decide to become a member of Females in Food®
I became a member of Females in Food, representative of both Karyn and I and of Benmar Farm as a fully women-owned production dairy farm, because being a female business owner in a male dominated industry is lonely on every one of those counts. As an entrepreneur (and a farmer!), it’s so easy to isolate, and as women that’s the exact opposite of the fuel we need to succeed. Synergy is the concept of the whole being stronger than the sum of its parts. And we physically see and interact with that every day, so we intimately understand the need and power of that – Females in Food creates the opportunity for synergism with other women in the context of passion about the food we provide for others.
(note from editor #Ibuywomenowned)
We love to celebrate the successes. Can you give us an example of how joining the Foodpreneurs Formula™ has positively impacted your business?
We have been braver – we’ve been clear about our plan for many years, but execution is so complex. Being a Member has allowed us to ask questions (and hopefully contribute like value in return!) to others that would have taken years of trial and error within our own journey, and to learn questions we should have been asking that have been asked by others. We want to thank every one of the women who are actively involved in the exchanges, and encourage those in the background. Together we all are stronger.
Thank you Carissa.
Want to read more about another successful Females in Food member? Check out our ‘What’s Cooking’ interview with Digital Marketer, Rachael Hedges