WHEN grain, wool and meat prices plummeted in 1991, things weren’t looking good for the Nenke family in the small town of Kukerin in the Wheatbelt.
They had three kids in boarding school and the bills for their farm were mounting by the day.
The family had been selling yabbies as a side business to a wholesaler, but when eldest son Paul landed a bumper 50kg catch one day, the wholesaler didn’t even want the oversupply.
Luckily fate intervened and the owners of a restaurant in Northbridge phoned one hour later looking for 20kg of yabbies a week.
Word-of-mouth soon spread around WA’s dining scene, and before long the Nenke family were supplying yabbies to customers all across the metro area, south west and even the eastern states.
Mum Mary says their company Cambinata Yabbies then went from strength-to-strength.
“In 1994 we built a ‘state of the art’ establishment and became registered for export,” Mary says.
“In 1998 we doubled the size of the establishment and in 2006 we build a commercial kitchen for value adding.
“Meantime in 2003 we held our first Cambinata Yabbies event to showcase food, wines and other products produced in the Wheatbelt and Great Southern with top chefs from WA preparing five course meals to be served in our candlelit shearing shed.”
At its peak, Cambinata Yabbies were selling 4.1 tonne of yabbies a week in Australia and to countries around the world including Taiwan, Korea, UK, France and Italy, as well as participating in international trade shows.
“We came to recognise the need for quality accommodation in the region and in 2014 opened Mary’s Farm Cottages on our farm, and an eco friendly village of eight cottages with vistas across our paddocks,” Mary says.
“This operation resulted in a growth of people coming to stay and enjoy Cambinata Yabbies and also triggered the decision to run ‘Extravaganza’ events, our last in 2017. We still cater for events including weddings and group booking for as few as 20 people.”
But the business has not been without its challenges: when the state government organised aerial spraying from Esperance to Perth to kill grasshoppers, it affected many of the 1200 farms they bought yabbies from and production fell by 70 per cent just after Cambinata Yabbies had opened their new commercial kitchen.
“Recently we had an even more devastating experience with ‘water deficiency’ across many shires including our own, “ Mary says.
“Farmers cleaned out their dams – brought in large machinery to scoop out the 2-3 metres of mud and even more in the base of dams. These dams only filled for the first time in July last year. Currently our sales are well down due to lack of supply not demand. We continue to have many enquiries for our yabbies. They definitely aren’t lacking in popularity – just sadly in supply.”
Cambinata Yabbies is just one of the fascinating farming families with a stall at this year’s Farmer on your Plate in Forrest Place, Perth CBD on Friday September 2.
Featuring the likes of Wandering Clover Fed Beef, Nannup Lavender Farm, Tucker Bush and Australian Bee Company, there will be cooking demonstrations, fresh produce, cuddly farm animals, live entertainment, and raffles and prizes, including a one night stay for four adults at Mary’s Farm Cottages.
“We plan to have our gourmet yabbies at Farmer on Your Plate and some live yabbies for people to see and touch,” Mary says.
“The gourmet ones are pickled and come in three flavours – lemon, chilli and spice.
“The latter are served in platinum service on the Indian Pacific and highly sort after.
“It’s a great chances to meet the families behind the food, learn a bit about how the food gets to your plate, and sample some lovely fresh produce.”
For more info see facebook.com/farmeronyourplate/
by STEPHEN POLLOCK