As part of our series on farm diversification, we are chatting to producers across Australia and bringing to you a number of case studies that explore the plethora of opportunities for agricultural and non-agricultural diversification.
Our article series leading up to these case studies can be accessed here:
- Part 1: 7 ways to diversify your farm
- Part 2: Advantages, Disadvantages and Major Pitfalls of Farm Diversification
- Part 3: 5 steps to consider before diversifying on farm
Our next case study comes from Western Australia, where we speak to Allexa, one half of the dynamic Cernotta couple.
Allexa, tell us about you and where you are based?
Our names are Mikey and Allexa Cernotta and we are from Pemberton, WA, where we run Whispering Woods Pemberton.
Our farm is 15kms outside Pemberton towards Nannup. We are surrounded by Karri Forest and Beedelup Falls. Pemberton has a population of approximately 750 in town, and around 1,500 when including the surrounding farms.
It is a dynamic community and the town is starting to cater beautifully to a blossoming food and wine culture in the area. We actually just got a new wine and tapas bar, a whiskey bar and a new café – Jonezys. We have wonderful fresh produce and people in the community and businesses are opening up to promote all of it.
I grew up on the West Coast in Vancouver and Mikey grew up in Kalgoorlie. He moved around a lot as a kid as his father was a mining engineer. We met on Vancouver Island when studying in 2010 and spent only five days together as Mikey had to return to Australia. Shortly after, I followed my heart, dropping out of school and following him back here. We ended up returning to Canada to finish studies, and after some backwards and forwards, we finally settled here in WA three years ago.
I’m also a teacher and the starting salary for teachers here is so much stronger than Canada. There is much more respect and rewards for Australian teachers so it was a smart move for me. I always dreamed of being a mother, farmer and teacher and am able to do all three here. We have one little girl and expecting our second child in just two short weeks!
What is the nature of your diversified business?
We bought the farm 3 and a half years ago and the previous owner was a handyman full time and ran Wiltipoll sheep and an Arabian Stud. We now run a B&B, wedding venue and beekeeping enterprise.
Our visitors to our cabin (original Green Cabin built in the early 1940s) on the property mainly come from Perth for a tree change to get away from the hustle and bustle and to breathe the country air. We have also had some overseas visitors and many repeat stays – some have been back four times!
Our cap our number of weddings to six a year to maintain exclusivity for our couples. Over the past two years we have had six weddings and already have three booked in for next year. Word of mouth has meant we have grown quicker than we had thought. We allow guest to bring swags and tents to stay at the venue. Couples also hire glamping tents which are erected on the farm. Also, 8km from us is Karri Valley Resort by the lake that has 30 chalets and 30 lakeside lodges, housing well over 100 people.
Our goal has always been to farm in one form or another. We have toyed with a few different ideas. Using the Green Cabin to produce income enabled us to extend the dam to plan to put in avocado trees. We have now completed the dam extension and the plan has now changed as we are considering stocking marron and have just introduced a keep keeping enterprise to our portfolio. We are also looking at planting lavender to offer a unique lavender honey that is not currently being produced in the SW area.
Why did you start the hosting weddings at Whispering Woods?
We actually unintentionally started all of this! We wanted to start raising a family in a rural town so we moved to where we are now and things just kind of happened. Mikey always wanted to be his own boss as well.
When we first bought the property there was a rustic cabin on the property that I could not ignore. We had rented out places through AirBnB in Canada and knew the cabin would make a phenomenal destination. It was just so beautiful and charming.
So, that was my aim in the first week on the property to help generate cashflow for the farm. I found things around the property to put in the cabin and create a country rustic feel. We charged $50/night for the first month and people just loved it. We got it to a good steady occupancy and it is now doing extremely well.
From there, the business grew in a way we couldn’t have imagined. It’s funny because Mikey and I weren’t originally too keen on weddings. When he proposed to me, I knew he was my forever, but I wasn’t sure if marriage was for me. So, we compromised by eloping!
But, we still wanted to include our friends and family, so we threw a big party the next year in the barn on the farm. It was just amazing – we knew we had to hire it out for others to share the magic.
Also, people who stayed in our rustic cabin kept getting engaged while staying on our farm! I can understand why as it is so special! So, the writing was on the wall for us to also host weddings at Whispering Woods.
What have been the major successes with the venture?
It’s a hard question to answer as we have had a lot of successes, but some seem very small. Being able to step away from a regular 9-5 jobs and support ourselves has been so rewarding.
Overall, surviving the first year of farming was a massive success as we both had zero experience with living or working on farms before! Getting this far and still being in one piece is amazing.
Also transforming the old run-down cabin into a popular B&B and re-purposing a disused barn into a wedding venue were incredibly rewarding to us.
Starting from nothing and putting your heart into it to build something special that is growing well is extremely gratifying.
What have been the major challenges in setting up and running the B&B and wedding venue?
Like most small business owners, trying to find that work/family balance remains a constant challenge.
However, it’s what I signed up for and it’s what I always wanted. I dreamed of being a mum, with an amazing husband, in the middle of nowhere, with a dog and cat by my side. So, I’m living my dream.
I know I will be constantly bombarded by bouts of loneliness and seclusion, but I’m an introvert, so I don’t always need to be surrounded by people. To overcome the work/family balance, we make the most of time together by doing business tasks all together.
Also, not second guessing your direction and believing that what you are doing is going to work out to plan is incredibly important. It can be difficult at times as you feel that every step forward comes with a couple back. It is during these times that you have to believe in yourself and your ideas but also be comfortable with mini failures along the way.
Allexa, do you have any advice for others looking into diversifying their farm business?
There is never a better time to do anything than now…. just go for it and dream big.
Specifically, my advice would be to find out what’s going in your broader community around you. Rather than completely building something isolation, try to build something that is part of something bigger. For example, Mikey and I knew about a food trail that was opening up in the SW and we are now a part of that.
Thank you so much Allexa and Mikey and congratulations on a wonderful business. Where can people find you?
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