WORDS BY ALICIA LÜDI-SCHUTZ

PHOTOGRAPHY BY PETE THORNTON


 

A legacy continues…

 

There’s a hill on the outskirts of Greenock where Jersey cows roam happily, producing a “Barossa white” full of rich, creamy goodness.

This is the home of the Kernich family’s dairy, birthplace of  “Jersey Fresh”, a branded milk business born of adversity but nurtured to success through resilience, a love of the land and, above all, faith.

Here, the working day starts before the crack of dawn as cows meander down to take their place at the milking stand. Today’s milking herd of 80-100 “girls” continue a long lineage of stud Jerseys dating back to the original five bought by Jeff Kernich and his parents, Elva and Albert, when they first moved from the heart of Greenock to the 180 acre farm 45 years ago.

The Kernich family has grown over the years to include Jeff’s wife, Erica and their daughters, Amy, Paula and Lisa. Youngest child, Mark was born with Down’s Syndrome yet the family’s focus on his abilities rather than disabilities has resulted in him being the much loved, valuable member of the community he is today.

Whilst life on the land meant battling nature’s extremes, plummeting milk prices and heavy-handed banks that threatened the dairy’s very existence, the family have always rallied to power through.

But an unimaginable tragedy would change the course of history for the tightly knit family when Jeff was killed in a farming accident.

Two years on, there’s still sadness in the eyes of Jeff’s family but the next custodians of Kernich Holdings and Jersey Fresh have stepped up with a renewed sense of determination to succeed, showing a courage that would make any father proud.

Sisters, Amy McDonald, Paula Menzel and Lisa Werner were always part of the succession plan and whilst it has changed, they are continuing their father’s legacy as they draw on everything they have learned growing up on the farm and working beside him.

“The first 12 months after dad died we were just keeping things going but we are at the point now where we are all ready to step out from behind the man and the legend and make our own mark on the farm and in the community,” says Lisa.

“We are ready to come out under our own steam.”

Married to Nick and raising four children, Lisa manages the Jersey Fresh side of the family business and looks after the accounts for the farm.

Her sisters say she could sell milk to a cow and there is no doubting Lisa loves to chat about the farm’s history, her father’s vision and the exciting plans to expand.

She shares the same passion as her siblings as she speaks of a new calf rearing facility and developments that will increase the dairy’s capacity whist reducing the time it takes to milk the cows twice every day.

It’s a matter of working “smarter not harder”, a philosophy drummed into them by their father and one the sisters value as they balance their work and family life.

Jersey Fresh have just released a new iced coffee called “Cold Broo” in partnership with Bean Addiction Coffee Roasters and there’s more naturally flavoured milks to follow if Lisa has her way. Even yoghurt production could become a reality as they expand the factory with the aim to one day use all the milk they produce and perhaps even buy from other dairy farmers.

“We are certainly the sum of our parts. Scott does the cropping, Paula does the cows, I do Jersey Fresh, Mark pitches in too and Amy picks up wherever the slack is and that is incredibly crucial.” – Lisa Werner

 

Jeff’s girls are eager to make their father’s visions happen, whilst introducing their own ideas along the way as they take on their various roles.

Paula is the herd manager. She and husband, Scott who is integral to the farming side of the business, along with their three children, have now moved into the house on the property.

Creative and innovative like her father, it was Paula who designed the logo of Jersey Fresh, originally drawing it with her finger on the condensation of a milk tank.

“She’s a bit high maintenance… and that’s coming from her secretary!” laughs Lisa although it’s clear she wouldn’t have her any other way.

“Paula lives and breathes cows, anything to do with breeding, milking, veterinary, calf rearing, feeding… she’s this hard working little pocket rocket. I sometimes say Paula looks after her cows as well as her children and she’s a really, really good mum!

“We are certainly the sum of our parts. Scott does the cropping, Paula does the cows, I do Jersey Fresh, Mark pitches in too and Amy picks up wherever the slack is and that is incredibly crucial.”

Amy, the eldest daughter, is the one the family describe as a Jill of all trades. She follows in her father’s footsteps as advocate for “Cows Create Careers”, is a CFS member and helps Paula show cows at the Royal Adelaide Show each year.

Whether it’s balancing the books, milking the cows, or driving the truck, Amy is the one that springs into action when things need to be done. The mother of three, married to Chris, is also the state secretary for Jersey Australia and says she knew she wanted to work on the farm when she was seven years old.

Amy has a sense of humour like her dad, one all seem to share when they get together around the table with a cappuccino from the church outreach, “Connections Café”, an example of the many community organisations they support and the only time the girls say $1 per litre of milk is ever
okay.

Amy smiles widely as she describes their dad’s “master plan” for the property – an interactive dairy centre complete with farm door sales, children’s play park and milk bar reminiscent of the Cellar Doors so prevalent throughout the Barossa.

“He wanted a big cow out near the road where you could slide out the bum!” she laughs.

“You would tour through the centre and learn about the dairy industry and then you just slide right out!”

The girls have a giggle as they envision “Grumpy”, the nickname Jeff gave himself, sitting on a stool in the corner of the centre, “boring the tourists” with his cow chatter. He’d be giving talks about life on the dairy and showing his collection of old milking machines whilst Erica would be serving milk shakes and simple country cooking from “Ma’s Milk Bar”.

Sure, it maybe a little way off and Council might have something to say about a two storey cow in a paddock with a slippery dip for a tail, but the Kernich’s dream of creating more diversity for Barossa tourists to enjoy is a very real opportunity they want to embrace.

As for “Ma”, the matriarch of the family, she can’t help but laugh at her daughter’s antics.

Erica sees how they have all stepped up in their various roles whilst, between them, raise eight children under nine plus two teenagers.

School pickups are “worse than herding cows” but grandma is proud to say the Kernich family is keeping their local primary school populated.

Being amongst her grandchildren is Erica’s happy place. Now living just around the corner, she’s still close at hand and feels as cherished as ever.

“I think it is very important that as a family, you all have a purpose and a role,” she says.

“I believe we all have our place here…we all rely on each other.”

Mark Werner

She admits it has been tough, particularly for Mark who struggles to understand and cope with the loss of his father.

Yet it is Mark, fondly described by his sisters as “a bit of a diva”, who is the “glue” keeping this hard working family together.

Erica credits him for ensuring everyone stays grounded. He’s the one that teaches tolerance and compassion and provides a gentle reminder that laughter is the best medicine.

“He’s certainly an asset to the family,” Erica says.

“When any of the family have issues, it’s Mark that brings them back home.

“He’s taught us that life is still fun and it’s not just a chore. He brings joy.”

Erica watches as the business evolves with a quiet pride and heart of gratitude.

“Faith, family and farm – that’s Jeff’s legacy.”

The late Jeff Kernich. Photo by John Krüger

 

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