Faces of the Wheatbelt - Mary Nenke

December 18, 2017 at 3:02 PM


Aquaculture pioneer a Wheatbelt champion 

Kukerin identity Mary Nenke is an inspirational Wheatbelt woman and the October Face of the Wheatbelt winner. 

There is not much Mary doesn’t know about growing a start-up country business having lived and breathed the trials and tribulations for three decades. She is also gracious in sharing this experience with others. Over 25 years Mary, husband Michael and their family developed Cambinata Yabbies, building the brand into the largest yabby production in Australia, growing from 20 kilograms a week to now exporting 70 tonnes a year to a global market. 

Commercial yabby production grew from Michael’s hobby stocking his dams like many other Wheatbelt farmers in the 1980s. Mary says selling fresh yabbies to restaurants initially helped with education costs of their six children. They engaged neighbours and other farmers to supply volume and within two years were selling into Perth, interstate and an international market in Singapore. 

Expansion into tourism began organically, with visitors dropping by to taste and buy yabbies. This interest lead to requests to host tours and lunches. Attending agricultural field days helped Mary and Michael hone their tourism skills and test the market with the opportunity to tell the story of their yabbies and business growth.  

“We have always encouraged our family to be involved in the businesses, including those who do not live on the farm,” she says. “Input from those not directly involved in the daily running of the business provides diverse ideas and experience.  This is important to growing the business and building the whole family’s connection with the land.” 

With an ethos of maximising the value of their land, Cambinata Farms has diversified, while continuing to crop wheat, barley, lupins, and field peas on their 2,200-hectare property. 

Thanks to a large commercial kitchen the family now produces yabby products, local honey, a range of dukkha and chocolate pan forte, as well as processing Bremer Bay abalone. This is further complemented by catering services and on-farm visitor accommodation. 

Visitors to the farm and Mary’s Farm Cottages vary from locals to travellers including caravaners, other farmers and international tourists, predominately from Europe and Asia. 

“One Singaporean couple this year planned their six-day visit to WA to include lunch at Cambinata Yabbies,” Mary explains, highlighting the drawcard this Wheatbelt business offers to international tourism attraction. Spring is the most popular time for the accommodation with wildflowers in abundance. The farm often hosts weddings and offers a unique experience for wedding guests with the opportunity to tour the yabby processing facilities and explore the farm with its machinery and memorabilia displays. In addition to offering a beautiful location weddings, Cambinata Yabbies offer first class catering, with delicious meals provided to visitors and wedding guests. 

Mary says one early achievement, winning the inaugural RIRDC Rural Woman of the Year award in 2000, opened many doors and opportunities allowing her to pursue her commitment to growing opportunities for regional businesses and communities.

From telecommunications to housing, regional health and wellbeing Mary is a driving force at a state and national level, meeting heads of government past and present leading to recognition as both Citizen of the Year for Regional Development and later being inducted into the WA Women’s Hall of Fame.   

Over the years the Nenke’s created a unique Wheatbelt experience transforming their shearing shed into a function centre with polished boards lit by chandeliers where they host the ‘Cambinata Extravaganza’. This annual evening of fine food and wine promotes all that is wonderful about regional fare, attracting visitors Australia wide, and even internationally.

On attending one year as official guest, the late Hon Kim Chance later quoted: 'Mary Nenke is a great innovator, the kind of businesswoman that the Wheatbelt so desperately needs if it is to regain the community and social viability it once had.' 

Mary has invaluable advice for others working in tourism or with a unique product. “Build your brand by building relationships with people,” she says. Creating networks including local shires and paying attention to excellence is crucial. Mary recommends a quick response to any complaint and accepting feedback from customers is also vital. 

“Word of mouth is the strongest recommendation,” Mary says. “Thank those who help you build your brand.” Mary has no plans for retirement as she and Michael currently enjoy time in Europe after a stopover in Asia to visit family and, of course, promote yabby products. 

“We are blessed with a wide range of talents and qualifications within our family members including degrees in business, accounting, teaching, architecture, medicine; and studies and experience in aquaculture, agriculture, vet nursing and hospitality, marketing and banking. By maximising our combined family talents our business has diversified, developed, changed and grown.” she says.

“Ideas cannot become reality without hard work, vision and a variety of talents. It is important to love what you do and where you live in all businesses but particularly in tourism. We love sharing our part of the world with others and championing the importance of agriculture.”



Image: Mary Nenke with Marcus Falconer, CEO of Australia's Golden Outback

The Faces of the Wheatbelt project is proudly funded by the Avon Community Development Foundation and the Wheatbelt Development Commission.

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