Last weekend we had our annual CSA members’ day, and I awoke excited to welcome many of our wonderful members up for a day on the farm to relax, spend time with the happy piggehs and cattle, feast on a Jonai community potluck, and share with each other how things are going and how we can all look after each other (and others) even better than we already are.
We’ve been through a lot together, our community and us. Some have been with us since we offered our first CSA shares back in January 2014, and others are quite new. We’ve witnessed plenty of births and some deaths, there have been marriages and divorces, and we’ve fed our community through both illness and good health… it feels a lot like an extended family.
While we’ve fed them, they’ve also nourished us – the support through the fertility crisis of 2016 was profoundly kind and generous and saved us from having to seek off-farm income as production dipped at its lowest to about 60% of normal (for pork – fortunately having cattle maintained some risk buffer, as did having cures available – read the post for more detail). The fertility crisis was followed by a period of such fecundity that I’ve been over-filling bags for most of this year – sharing the rewards of abundance when we have it in recognition of the risks the community have born with us in the hard times.
One of the Teikei Principles (the founding principles of CSA) is ‘to accept all the produce delivered from the producer,’ and others set out expectations around mutual communication and learning. While that is a worthy aim, we have to acknowledge that there are cuts of meat that some people have never cooked and might lack confidence to try.
If we’re going to radically transform the food system, surely we have to start with radically transforming our relationships, and our commitment to growing everyone’s knowledge and competence of how food is grown. So in that spirit, this year in addition to the farm tour & Big Talks, I decided that for our contribution to the lunch I should showcase more challenging cuts, and hocks were on the menu. I decided to show them the deliciousness of jowls as well, even though they only get them as guanciale or in pâté de tête normally (though that may change now they’ve got a taste of them…).
The jowls were easy, as just a couple months ago I’d asked my mate and excellent chef Sascha for the method he’d used to cook some of our jowls he served me at Messer in Fitzroy. Half a day lightly curing in salt with aromats followed by half a day confit’ing the jowls at 120C in pork fat, after which you press the jowls overnight in the fridge. Next day, slice, fry and serve (in our case with roasted broccoli and a drizzle of the last of my pomegranate molasses made by another dear friend Tash). Sooooo yum!
For the hocks, I used a Dan Hong recipe from Mr Wong’s up in Sydney that was shared with me by our intern Cal – future farmer and an outstanding cook in his own right. The method is quite simple though time consuming like the jowls – a slow braise for about 6 hours at 130C in soy, shiaoxing wine, leek, cinnamon and star anise, after which you pull the meat & skin off the bone and make a rough layer in a baking dish, then press it in the fridge overnight. The next day you slice your terrine into squares and deep fry before serving with a sweet & sour sauce (though I reduced the sugar from 250g to 100g because that would have been way too much sugar in my humble opinion). Served with rice, these hocks were a huge hit with the members, who now see the value of hocks in their bags! J (Fair warning – when Dan says ‘be careful as hot oil will spit’ he is not kidding. Wear protection!)
Once we’d all been well fed (including a range of gorgeous salads and desserts that included not just one but two pavlova – each distinctive enough for this to be a bonus), we settled into some community chat. As a result, we now have a closed Facebook group for our community to share recipes and ask questions about different cuts – taking the pressure off me to be sole support while enabling all of them to further develop their own relationships as well as sharing their wealth of cooking knowledge, which is much greater than I alone can provide anyway. Community is so much better than individuality!
Our final discussion arose from something we discussed last year – how we as a community might be able to support low-income members of the broader community to access meat like ours. While our meat is not particularly expensive amongst the other high quality, pastured meat available in Australia, for those on low incomes it obviously is less accessible. When you must choose between paying the rent and the quality and ethics of the meat you eat, most people (quite rationally, I think) are going to pay the rent. But we don’t believe anyone should have to make that (lack of) choice.
I spend a lot of my non-farming time advocating for food sovereignty – which includes ensuring everyone’s right to nutritious & culturally-appropriate food grown and distributed in ethical and ecologically sound ways – and I do this all over the world. I have railed against injustice my entire life – I am galvanized to action in the face of ill treatment of animals, people, land… and structural poverty is a systemic injustice that I believe food sovereignty can play a big part in addressing. But it’s a long road until all people have adequate and appropriate food access with agency, so the Jonai community have come up with a way to support locals in need.
Call them ‘community supported food sovereignty days’ – thanks to the generosity of our community, we’ll be offering 40% discounts on all meat in the freezer on two dedicated days each month, which brings our meat down to the cost of production (e.g. a $30 bone-in shoulder would cost a mere $18 – and in our system that is a 1.15kg shoulder, which will feed a family of 6 more than adequately – with leftovers). How will we offer this? Each of our 85 members (except those who are themselves financially unable to) will contribute $5 extra each month, providing somewhere around $400/month into the system that is surplus to our needs.
For the past five years, we have tried to maintain a small amount of meat for sale at the farm gate shop for two reasons: 1) outreach to get more people to come to the farm and see how animals can and should be raised, and 2) as a risk mitigation for the CSA – a meat buffer to ensure there’s always enough to fill the CSA bags. When the freezer gets full every few months, we discount by usually 15% to clear it, a model that has been working to ensure we don’t store meat for more than three months. However, wouldn’t it be even better if we offered that meat heavily discounted each month to ensure full access by all members of the community instead of a cheap deal for those who can afford to pay? We think so! And so do our beautiful, generous members, who agreed to contribute to the risk mitigation in the system and then offer surplus as a community supporting community. Best.
Still wondering whether CSA is for you – as a farmer or an eater? I hope not, but if so, drop the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) an email and we’ll be happy to set you up for a chat with one of our growing number of CSA farming members and point in the direction of more resources to support CSA – the solidarity economy with the capacity to build solidarity not only between farmers and those who eat their produce, but also with the broader community of eaters, hub hosts, suppliers, and more!
Viva la revolución!