Taranaki Farm's Day To Shine

Thursday, November 01, 2012

On Sunday just gone, we had one of our most inspiring days for a while & probably one of the best ever - honest! A nearby farm, Taranaki Farm at Woodend, owned & grown by Nina & Ben Falloon, his family & their dedicated team, opened their gate on Saturday & Sunday to the general public for the first ever Australian 'lunatic' farm tours. There were hundreds of diverse folk there on Sunday from the local Daylesford-Macedon & Melbourne regions. The best part of 1000 people must have turned up over both days - how FANTASTIC is it that so many are interested in food grown with integrity & supporting small family farms who are in the 'integrity business'.

Ben Falloon's welcome to us all.

A keen, diverse crowd stretching on for 'miles'!

The tours were guest hosted by the irrepressible, heartful Joel Salatin. All the way from Virginia in the USA, Joel & his family are the innovative 'creators' of Polyface farm(ing), a 'blueprint' for what is essentially regenerative farming & truly ethical animal husbandry. Joel & his farming & generous educating (of communities/eaters & farmers world-wide) achievements spur us on no end at Angelica Organic Farm. We aspire to follow this model in many more ways as our young farm develops in the coming years. It is so nurturing to see him when he visits Australia & to read his books & the Polyface Farm website. Our local Taranaki Farm is a great inspiration too - very helpful to see the concept in real life when we can't get to visit Virginia & comforting to know this model of farming IS actually being successfully duplicated outside Joel's farm in the Shenandoah Valley! 

Joel Salatin teaching us about the 'Milk Mobile' mobile dairy.

 'Coined' as "beyond organic", the Polyface farming model literally uses nature as the pattern for healing food growing landscapes within commercial domestic scale farming of animals. It is a method of biological farming & is regenerative both environmentally (not merely via what inputs are not used or used instead!) & via restoring trust between farm- food -community. The big picture lays in nourishing the land & its produce, so people can be nourished by trustworthy food & in turn nourish/support the farms/farmers who grow the food, largely enabled by the focus on reconnection of the 'town' to the farm (the opposite to typical broad acre, monoculture & factory farming!).

The crowd lovin' the pastured chookies.

There is a lot to this system & its philosophy & it is beyond the capacity of this blog post for me to detail it all (though I could go on & on about it :) - however best to visit the Polyface & Taranaki sites for more info) BUT one of the main factors is the mobility of much of the various operational components...this approach has a lot to do with the regenerative nature this way fosters. For example, all the livestock & poultry are pastured & moved frequently (like often daily!!) to new "salad bars", their natural herbivorous diet, which unlike the predominant grazing methods used & feed lot 'finishing' (fattening by grain), allows for landscape healing, improved capacity/endurance & superior nutrition for the animals (& therefore people who eat the meat, milk & eggs). 


The "milk mobile", a relocatable (daily) milking shed.

Young dairy intern with some of her guards.

At Taranaki farm, every day the dairy cows are moved a short distance to their new daily pasture with their easily relocatable electric fencing, light-weight water troughs (connected to a gravity fed irrigation source) & light, mobile milking shed, as are the beef heard. The land is saved from compaction, the pasture regenerates quickly, the cows get optimum nutrition.

Happy sacred cow!

Some snuggling pig-aerator Wessex Saddle Back (heritage breed) pigs.

What's more, the individuality of the plants (e.g. riparean reveg. on creek/river banks, shelter belts/wildlife corridors, wood lots, meadows e.t.c.) & animals is honoured in this system as they are provided habitat that allows them to express their innate selves - the pigs their pigness, the chooks their chookness e.t.c., animals being allowed to forage, eat their naturally intended foods, scratch, dust bathe & whatever else they naturally do. At Polyface & Taranaki farms the pigs are not only pastured as meat providers (Pig-aerator pork) but meanwhile they help build compost by aerating the cow dung after the pastured beef heard eat hay as they forage through  it & added other carbon matter & corn ferments which the piggies love & prosper on. 

A mobile hen house, home of the pastured laying hens & their eggs. 

The 'egg-mobiles' follow after the cows in their rotation & the hens free range from their houses, foraging for bugs, seeds & picking over & dispersing the cow dung to sanitise the pasture just like birds do in nature, following herbivores as biological cleansers. This helps control pests & disease in the beef heard & assists pasture fertilisation & the building of organic matter & pasture regen.. 

A view across the property to the pastured broilers/meat chooks.

The pastured meat chickens are housed in small numbers in floorless, portable field shelters & are moved daily to fresh new pasture. They get all the fresh air, exercise, sunshine & protection they need. Integrating the cows to 'mow' ahead of the shelters provides short grass & encourages a diet of tender, fresh shoots.  

...& on it goes with a number of  other symbiotic, integrative elements...ecosystem farming, not mans' dominance over land & beast.

Things we also love about this particular highly ethical practice of farming is that the farm smells & looks good & healthy, it fosters healthy & connected communities via the direct support of fairly priced, locally grown, truly seasonal food, the animals have a beautiful life & the meat animals only 1 'bad' but humane day (or moments) at the end, it provides meaningful employment for all the farm team & opportunities for budding young farmers as interns AND with its diverse & land healing high production, it can provide an ongoing multi-stream income base which makes it soundly profitable, which is a very hard thing to achieve in meat, vegetable & fruit farming (without selling your soul & mass producing low quality produce). 

Joel Salatin

Polyface Farm describes itself as a "diversified, grass-based, beyond organic, direct marketing farm". Although by mainstream standards it is a small farm, they produce beef, poultry, rabbit meat, eggs, pork & forestry products, employ 10 permanent people & generate more than $1 million in sales annually (USDA sales criteria calls any farm with sales above $400,000 US per annum a large farm). Polyface direct markets to 2000 families, 25 restaurants & 10 retail outlets AND they don't do anything conventionally...they haven't bought a bag of chemical fertiliser for over 50 years & certainly don't have sheds full of expensive, depreciating plant & equipment.

This is incredibly efficient, non-industrialised food production, possibly at its best. However, sceptics & organic farming antagonists claim organic food production can't feed the world...well folks, industrialised, chemical & petroleum reliant farming aint doing so great at feeding the world now, with about 1 billion people starving or malnourished but it is diminishing the resource base that's essential to sustain it - fuel, productive land & water supplies whilst also contributing to the loss or degradation of practical farming skills at a great rate to boot! The highly reputable Rodale Institute say we could actually double food production in just 10 years using organic practices (just typical organic practices) & other agro-ecological farming methods, which attempt to mimic natural processes & rely on healthy soil biology rather than synthetic sprays & other inputs...sounds like Polyface & Taranaki Farms are onto something very valuable for us all to me!? Vive la differance! :-)

Food Inc. - You CAN make a difference.

Saturday, June 12, 2010
Greetings everyone! I've had a lot to think about and process the last couple of weeks, hence the absence of blog posts. Here is the first topic of my musings which I'd like to share with you... 

Movie Food Inc., (Academy Award nominee - Best Documentary Feature), opened nationally here on May 20 and has so far received a lot of media coverage, rating highly among film critics as well as the rest of us who passionately care about health, the wellbeing/future of our children, our communities and our food supply - i.e. food provenance and the direction our farming and food supply systems have been heading.

We have seen Food Inc. and honestly think anyone who eats should see this - aah yep, that is to say all of us!

It is a very well made, articulate documentary that aims to convey the (frankly) despotic power a small group of  large players hold over the majority in our food chain.

"You've got a small group of multinational corporations who control the entire food system, from seed to the supermarket.
They're gaining control of our food" - Joel Salatin, ABC Land Line, June 6

The film's introduction contains these lines below, which are rather sobering to say the least, and then the film goes onto explain how this is occurring, :

Voice 1: "This isn't just about what we're eating. This is about what we're allowed to say; what we're allowed to know.

Voice 2: "The companies don't want farmers talking. They don't want this story told."

From farm to fork: Do you know what you’re eating?

Much of the information within this film was not new to us, the concerns being raised having had a lot to do with why we chose natural/biological farming and are so passionate about natural food growing, diversity of species and fostering a real connection between consumers to where our food comes from. We consider these avenues to be highly accountable means of organising an honest food supply chain.

We are concerned that largely through an increasing disconnection between people and their food sources (esp. via supermarket shopping & mass processed foods) and the ever louder demand for cheaper food (at any cost!), that faceless, mega profit-driven multinationals are able to hijack the authenticity, even safety of our food supply and that of growers. This ultimately robs us of our birthright to quality, healthy, sustainable food production in perpetuity. Not to mention insideously  filching our freedom to choose, whilst forcing into bland conformity a major aspect of our cultural experience and diversity - the fundamental qualities of our food, being it's texture, taste, variety and historical origins. 

We saw Food Inc. during our Daylesford-Macedon Ranges Harvest Week Festival a couple of weeks ago, for which regarded organic farmer and food ethics activist Joel Salatin was an esteemed guest speaker on building sustainable local food systems. Joel was also in Australia to help launch Food Inc.. So, we had the advantage of emerging from the sometimes very confronting 'home truths' of the movie to being surrounded by like-minded optimists and an informed forum vibrantly discussing proactive, sound means by which to overcome and prevent the issues raised, including examples of existing practices such as Joel's 'Polyface Farms' and many local (Victorian) farms (& of course other Australian states have their own great, highly conscious producers).

Although we are clearly biased towards organic and small-medium sized growing, we believe the issues raised in this film to be just as valid for conventional farmers and non-organics consumers, because biological, non-synthetic chemical based farming is not the only necessary solution for the future of farming and sustainable food production - for all types of consumers and farmers.

Joel Salatin and Alla Wolf-Tasker after the 'Building A Local Food System & Scaling Up' forum
held at Daylesford's Lake House

We think this is one of the most important films you'll ever see, not because every tiny detail is perfectly accurate (E-Coli is a bacterium NOT a virus as named...'hello' film's sub editor-dudes!) or because every issue is exactly replicated here in Australia at this point in time. However, we shouldn't kid ourselves that this documentary is a mere warning to us here not to follow down the U.S. path of inhumane and environmentally detrimental mass/cheap food production, as dear readers, we ARE already some way down that path within our own conventional food systems and we DO already have cruel 'factory farming' (pigs, poultry, cows...), grain-fed beef (corn - not a natural food for cattle), GM crops (canola already released + other crops being 'tested') and in some cases underpaid and ill-treated farm workers and even cases of serious lack of fair trade practices from supermarkets and wholesalers towards farmers. 

Ethical consumerism and fair trade are serious considerations. It's imperative we ask "how our food is grown, at what price and WHO pays the real price for growing it?" This is at the root of sustainability for all folks....it's not 'rocket science'!

One thing Food Inc. raised for us is the need, we think,  for funding towards independent research into the Australian food industry and a local expose or documentary to be made addressing precisely what is the state of affairs within our own food systems here. The findings need to be widely broadcast, as we all need to know and we need access to independant (from Govt. & business stakeholders), transparent information and therefore a hope of informed choice. 

One reason people eat organic food is to minimise their consumption of synthetic chemicals for a variety of health and ethical choices. One fact already known about our food system here, is that Food Standard's Australian and N.Z.'s Total Diet Study no longer reports on chemical residues in the conventional food supply. Therefore, if you want a choice, you have to take responsibility for your own precautions. However, how many of you knew about this matter and how many other food health and safety matters are not broadly publicised??

 The film opens with the line "The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000"...
surely that raises some questions in any thinking person's mind?? That IS a rapid change and why is it so? The real answers ARE out there if you care to do the research...

Some of the most important decisions we make every day are at the dinner table and whilst doing our food and grocery shopping. Tim and I have certainly been of the opinion for many years that possibly the most power any of us have to effect change lies in our consumer dollar and the choices we make in spending it. No where is this access to people power more prominent than in relation to what foods we choose to buy...we do all eat! 

The other major issue of concern to us, is that people expect food to be cheap but how cheap can they realistically expect it to stay or become, and still expect it to be good quality, nutritious food, grown with integrity. As farmers we are repeatedly told by retailers and wholesalers that shoppers are only interested in buying cheap food, but the reality is that it costs what it costs to grow food properly and enduringly and to grow cheap food farmers have to cut corners. People have to get that if they want quality and real value, they have to pay for it (& maybe reconsider their spending priorities too?) .    

“Your wallet is a mouth. When you spend money you tell the world how you want it to be.” 

As Joel Salatin was quoted on ABC Land Line last week: "Is cheapness everything that there is? I mean, who wants to buy the cheapest car? We're willing to subsidise the food system to create the 'mystique' of cheap food when actually it's very expensive food. When you add up the environment costs, societal costs, health costs...the industrial food is not honest food."  

We realise that this documentary or any other book, article or film are not a panacaea, that they do not cover every issue, circumstance or solution and will probably not change the buying and eating habits of the vast majority, but the issues and real personal experiences depicted in Food Inc. are undeniably important and worthy of conscious consideration by everyone who eats and all progress starts with small steps and is most often driven by the determined efforts of a concerned few. 

Also on Land Line Fiona Chambers of Fernleigh Farms, just up the road from us said: "I think we're at a crossroads where more and more consumers are starting to ask hard questions and if as farmers we can't be transparent and open about what we do and how we farm, then we're going the wrong way."

Tim and I totally agree!
  • For Melbourne viewings plus a cross section of Food Inc. reviewscheck this site

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