Transforming a dairy farm into a processing operation brings with it many challenges, not least of which is setting up food safety systems.
At Greenock based Jersey Fresh, which was established by the Kernich family in 2004, a focus on continuous learning has been key to their success.
The Kernich family has been dairy farming in the Barossa for 45 years. Matriarch Erica Kernich now runs the business with her four children, Paula Menzel, Amy McDonald, Lisa Werner and Mark Kernich.
“My sisters and I all went off exploring and working after we finished school, but we were all drawn back to the farm. My brother Mark has Down Syndrome and he keeps us all close to home and reminds us of the importance of family,” Lisa said.
The Kernich farm is a 180-acre property in Greenock, landlocked between vineyards. The Jersey Fresh company was born out of a desire to keep the family together at the farm.
“In the early 2000s, we realised we needed a way to make our little farm more viable. We couldn’t easily expand the farm and milk prices were as low as they had been back in the 1970s, so supplying a large company was no longer a viable source of income for our small 90-cow herd,” Lisa said.
The family was encouraged by famous local Maggie Beer who said the Barossa needed its own high-quality jersey milk.
“On our first day of delivery, Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop was our first stop. We’re lucky to have Maggie as a friend and mentor,” Lisa said.
Jersey Fresh initially produced 400 litres of milk and sold it to a small group of local businesses. The company now produces 7,500 litres per week and has a solid customer base across the Barossa, northern Adelaide suburbs and the Mid North.
As well as the Kernich family who take care of management, finance, quality assurance and HR, three staff work in the Jersey Fresh factory and on deliveries.
Finding the right staff is a key part of Jersey Fresh’s quality and safety focus. “Our staff are local people who we know and trust,” Lisa said. “They have become just like family.”
Staff and family members have completed the Safe Food Handlers training course, and Lisa said important element of staff training opportunity were audits.
“As much as we might moan about them, our six-monthly Dairysafe audits are a valuable tool for keeping us on track. With guidance from the team at Dairysafe, we’ve introduced internal audits to self-assess between the official audits, which have been really helpful,” Lisa said.
“We’re a small business, so we are all accountable and we all take food safety seriously, starting with the cleanliness of our dairy and ending with our finished products.
“Good communication between the factory and the dairy is critical. All our quality results are shared between the factory and the dairy, so we’re all across the entire operation, from paddock to plate.”
Sixteen years of operation without a recall or food incident is testament to the strong focus on communication and safety at Jersey Fresh.
Problem solving is also key to business success. “We’ve become experts in the way our milk responds to being frothed or heated for coffee,” Lisa said.
“When we would come out of winter and into that spring flush, we would send the cows out onto pasture to feed and then we would get calls from coffee shops saying our milk wasn’t texturing.
“It’s taken us almost 16 years to get this right and we’ve had two years now without that complaint. Our biggest lessons from a quality perspective is we can’t skimp on what we feed our cows, because ultimately it will affect our final product.”
Lisa said the move to processing had opened their eyes to how much small decisions at the dairy impacted on final milk quality.
“We had been dairy farmers for so many years – we would just put the milk in the vat and so long as it was quality milk and we were getting low cell counts and nothing out of the ordinary, we would just send the milk off to the tanker and not give it another thought,” she said.
“But now that we go right to the end of the supply chain, and talk to our customers all the time, we have to do everything in our power to keep the product quality high.
“That was a huge lesson for us. We did a lot of research and lost a lot of sleep. But it’s worth the effort as we now have a strong and loyal customer base and our business is going strong.”
The Jersey Fresh range consists of full cream milk, skim milk, thick pure cream and pouring cream. Jersey Fresh won a trophy for its pouring cream at the SA Dairy Awards in 2017.