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).
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! :-)