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Jonai Farms in Epicure!

Today we got a short write up of our Pozible project to build a boning room on the farm and do all our own butchering. If you haven't seen it already, check out the video 13-year-old Oscar produced for us, and spread the word about re-localising and bringing greater transparency to our food systems! And if you'd like some of our uncommonly delicious ethical pork, the rewards we're offering through the campaign are primarily pre-orders of pork! Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 4.06.12 PM


For those interested in more background on why we're farming the way we are and why we want to do our own butchering and curing, Amanda at Lambs Ears & Honey did a great interview with me last week that answers a lot of those questions. :-)

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Eat Your Ethics at Jonai Farms!

We’ve said since we arrived to farm free-range pigs that we’re working on a transparency model, and we’ve been clear that anyone is welcome to visit and scrutinise our farming practices. Last Sunday we really put the model to the test by hosting our first Eat Your Ethics at Jonai Farms (as part of the wonderful Daylesford Macedon Produce Harvest Week Festival)- a real paddock to plate journey for our visitors as we took them on a farm tour, then onto the back patio for a butchering demonstration and barbecue of the chops and ribs they’d just seen me cut up. IMG_1956

In keeping with our general life philosophy, we were keen to do everything ourselves, from bread to boning, scones to slaw.


We greeted our ethical enthusiasts with platters of American-style scones - Jonai ham and cheese for the savoury palates, pumpkin scones for the sweet tooths, and plenty of plunger coffee, and a selection of black or garden-fresh mint tea. I explained the Jonai journey to be ethical farmers, and then we were off to meet the happy piggehs.


We stopped at the empty nursery paddock, where we diligently bring every sow the week before she’s due to farrow after losing one entire litter to foxes out in the back paddocks. We now have five gilts in there all due to farrow within the fortnight - a story I’ll post soon.


We walked our guests along the road we had built at the start of summer to ensure we have bog-free access to our growing herd, then showed them the five paddocks we’ve created out of one 8-acre paddock, plus the 9-acre paddock where Borg still reins supreme with his rotating bevy of beautiful Large Black sows. We’re now hard at work fencing to break that paddock into nine 1-acre paddocks for quicker rotation through winter, when the pigs turn the soil much more quickly.


The aim is to rotate the pigs more quickly to ensure they improve the land rather than degrading it, which can happen from too much rooting or hard pack in the feeding areas. As we move them out of a paddock, we’ll seed fodder crops behind them, reducing our feed inputs and diversifying the pigs’ diet even further when we restock those paddocks a few months later.


Back at the house it was time for the butchering demonstration. I’ve been apprenticing with our butcher Sal, who is generously teaching me the trade in preparation for setting up our own boning room here on the farm. Having now butchered  (or helped butcher) six pigs and one steer, I’m getting the hang of it, but with a huge respect for the skills of this trade!


I showed how to break half a carcass down into the forequarter, the barrel, and the hindquarter, then talked through the cuts, including a discussion of why muscle meat (the shoulder) is tougher but more flavourful, so very responsive to slow cooking for a fabulous result, whereas a rolled leg roast has less flavour, but is much more tender. I may have carried on too much about my preference for the shoulder, as we sold a lot of those at the end of the day, and not a single leg roast!

There were great questions and comments throughout the day, such as when one person watched me bone out the ribs and exclaimed, ‘so that’s all the ribs you get from one pig?’ That’s right - just 14 per side, or 28 ribs per pig, and the first four or five are typically left on the shoulder roasts. And if you have loin chops, you won’t be having the full length of those ribs, and nor will you be having traditional Australian-style bacon, which includes the loin.

Many people’s exposure to pork is predominantly bacon and ham, and plenty of others really only add ribs and chops to that repertoire. Many butchers will simply turn a lot of their shoulders into sausages to account for these preferences. While we love the sausages Sal’s been making for us (seriously, our bratwurst turned me back to sausages, and our new single estate pork and sage sausages with sage from our garden are delicious), we also want people to appreciate all the cuts, not just the primes.

In fact, next week’s Melbourne delivery will be mostly shoulder and leg roasts (and a few remaining packs of chops), as we’re not slaughtering any more pigs until we move the last of these roasts - the bacon disappeared first, ribs were next, and we’re down to our last two blocks of ham and three packs of sausages…

Most of us wouldn’t know what to do with a pig’s head, though many are comfortable with trotters and hocks. We’re lucky to have a great relationship with the wonderful Lake House here in Daylesford, who buys all our heads and trotters to make their sublime ‘Charcuterie’ entrée from our Black pigs - it includes a fromage de tête, a crumbed galette, rillettes, and a black pudding (that sadly isn’t from our pigs’ blood as we have yet to negotiate with the abattoir to secure it). We are delighted to be making full use of the pig (we’ll work on the rest of the offal with the abattoir down the track), and to have our ‘uncommonly delicious’ ethical rare breed pork on such a distinguished and delectable menu!


As the day drew to a close, everyone full of beautiful pork marinated in my secret American-style spicy bbq sauce, slaw made from kohlrabi, celeriac, fuji apples, red onion, chives and cabbage and dressed simply in olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper, roasted spaghetti squash direct from our garden, and my freshly made sourdough rolls, I think we all felt we’d eaten our ethics with gusto!

Special thanks to my dear mate Bronwyn who came up from Melbourne to help the day run smoothly with her tireless efforts!

Stuart’s generous parents then treated five tired but elated Jonai to a celebratory meal at the Lake House, where we not only got to taste the superior results of rare breed, ethical farming, combined with artistic cookery in the Charcuterie entrée, but an abundance of other beautiful dishes by the talented Lake House team in the warm, convivial setting Alla has created so well. Our brood were suitably impressed with this level of dining, just as the staff were suitably impressed with our brood’s sophisticated palates as they savoured everything from the fromage de tête to eel wrapped in pancetta, and of course left room for plenty of dessert!

We’re already looking forward to hosting the next Eat Your Ethics, and sharing our passion for ethical farming and the finer skills of butchering with more people who can keep spreading the word about how we might best inhabit the planet lightly and deliciously.

And if you want to support our efforts to shorten the supply chain and do on-farm butchery at Jonai Farms while being rewarded with plenty of uncommonly delicious ethical pork, check out our Pozible campaign to fund the project!



The First Pig

"I awake each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savour the world. This makes it hard to plan my day." E. B. White

Here’s a little irony for you. The quote above (which also graces our homepage) is by E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, a book about a spider who saves a pig, and about friendship and kindness and love. The little girl Fern, supported by Charlotte’s amazing web-spelling efforts, also spends a great deal of her time and energy saving Wilbur the pig from the usual farm pig’s fate to end up as bacon. And yet White’s sentiment in the quote above so helpfully captures the spirit of what we’re trying to do at Jonai Farms - raise happy pigs who only have ‘one bad day’, and then eat them.

Prudence enjoying the 9 acres she shares with Borg & Pinky Slash Black.

Sorry, Wilbur, but we savour while we save.

If that’s not disconcerting enough, of the pigs who will be slaughtered, we’ve taken to calling all the boys Wilbur, and all the girls Charlotte. Accuracy be damned. And so we found ourselves 15 months after arriving on the farm ready for our first slaughter.

Six months ago, I wrote about our first piglets and all the learning that got us to that point. Since that first, we’ve had another five litters born, though Big Mama’s entire second litter was taken by foxes in the night. She was the first we’d allowed to farrow out in the back paddocks, and it proved to be a huge mistake. The poor sow was distressed for a couple of days, and we were all deeply sad at the senseless loss of so many little piglets. As a result, all sows are brought back to the nursery paddock next to the house to farrow, where we can keep a closer watch while Danny Boy (our Red Heeler) patrols the perimeter.

Our first winter on the farm was an endless series of frosts and Stuart’s regular stress of getting bogged trying to haul feed to the pigs out in the back paddocks. A new road is going in next week to resolve that particular issue.

The orsmkids embracing winter on the farm.

We watched too much Portlandia, and Stuart grew a beard and took to milling some of the pig’s grain with an old grinder bought from another pig-farming friend.

Portlandia Farmer Stuart ;-)

We harvested our first full crop of Calabrian garlic, courtesy of the charming Stefano Manfredi on a visit to his charming Bells at Killcare in 2010.

Calabrian garlic

Holgate Brewery kept us in spent brewer’s grain as a proportion of the pigs’ diet - keep an eye out for Jonai Farms pork sausages on their menu soon…

Pilsner-fed pork (and that's not just us Jonai...)

And at last, spring came, the pigs were big enough, and it was time to test out our systems (and taste our pork!) before commencing sales next month.


Stuart took one of the Wilburs to Diamond Valley abattoir in Laverton, where he was satisfied with the professional and humane handling of the pig as he was escorted in. The pig didn’t appear stressed, and everything went smoothly. The next day, he picked up the carcass (split lengthways in half, cleaned and de-haired with the head removed - though we had requested the head back - we need to formalise arrangements with them if we want offal). He then collected me from work (I work five days a week - three in the city, two from home - a story I will tell soon about how many farms are surviving only by bringing in other income), and we arrived home around 6pm to commence butchering.



From paid labour to labour of love, I thought. :-)


The kids were excited, and remarkably philosophical about the first Jonai pig to end up on the butcher’s block. It’s obvious that our message has been absorbed intact - they are a lot more comfortable eating animals who have lived good lives than those who haven’t. We all found the butchering process fascinating.


At around 9pm, the pig was fully butchered into shoulder roasts, Boston butt and tenderloins (saved for sausages), belly for rillette, belly for bacon, loin rack roasts, leg roasts, hocks and trotters. We quickly cooked up the spare ribs with salt and pepper on the barbecue and served them with grilled polenta as a little tasty reward for our efforts, delighted to have our first sample of Jonai pork and to find it to be delicious!

spare ribs & grilled polenta

The next night I roasted one of the rack roasts, which you can see was luscious…

Loin rack roast

Next came jars of rillette for chrissy pressies for the fam...


A shoulder roast cooked on a bed of Jonai-garden-fresh leek, celery, fennel, garlic, and tarragon, plus cinnamon and star anise was the centrepiece of the extended family christmas lunch…

Roast shoulder on Jonai garden greens...

Finally it was time to make sausages, on the first free day since slaughter. Many hands made… if not light work… at least loads of fun with our assortment of grinders - the clear winner was actually the oldest of the three! Bratwurst, chorizo and Jonai garlic sausages have all since been enjoyed by many, and soon diners at Holgate will be enjoying these and other variants as well.

recipes & implementsMany hands

Old mincer chorizo links chopping garlic

Atticus mincing


bratwurst & cabbage

Our first bacon is too salty, and we let it dry out a bit much in the fridge, resulting in more of a pancetta. It’s been a welcome ingredient in such delights as my first ever pork pot pie (which also featured a luscious stock from the trotters - thanks @tomatom for the inspiration and recipe!), though less welcome to grace the plate with fried eggs. We’ll work on our recipe before moving into selling cured smallgoods in a few months.



And so we’ve done it. We’re truly eating paddock to plate - homegrown single estate sausages, if you will. And we’re ready to sell this wonderful pork to the public, starting in a fortnight. We’ll post a price list and details of how we’ll be selling (small, medium and large boxes of mixed cuts and sausages) in the next week.

Those who have expressed interest, I promise there is a newsletter coming soon as well! If you haven’t already expressed interest and would like to, you can do so by emailing jonaifarms@gmail.com.

It’s a pleasure raising your pork, ethical omnivores! :-)


P.S. A big thank you to so many for the support and advice through our first butchering, but especially to the unwavering enthusiasm and recipes from @nopigtoobig, aka James Whetlor!




Here at Jonai Farms we had what seemed a long wait for our first litter of piglets. First, it took a few months longer than expected to get any pigs. Then they were younger than we’d planned, so we needed to wait a bit longer before we bred them. Then we waited (3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days, to be exact - not a bad gestation period, hey? And by the way, before their first litter, the girls are gilts. After they farrow (give birth), they’re sows). Big Mama was meant to be first, but she didn’t get pregnant during her first cycle alone with Borg. While we waited and wondered, another gilt busted through the electric wire to get to Borg when she cycled, and low and behold, she was up the duff. We named her Keen.

At last, spot on her due date, the 3rd of May, Keen farrowed, giving birth to eight little black piglets - one stillborn and one we think was squashed before we got to them in the early hours of the morning. And they were totally adorable.

Keen has proven to be a good mum. She was in the nursery paddock with Big Mama, who was very pregnant (or ‘in pig’, as they say) herself by this stage, and who shouldered the auntie burden with panache, minding the little piglets once Keen was able to hoist herself out of the barn and head out to eat voraciously to meet her increased energy demands feeding six mad little suckers.

Sadly, we made some mistakes. The new piglets were just as happy to suckle off the heavily pregnant Big Mama, and as we’d read that they often adopt each other’s piglets when they don’t have enough teats, etc, we didn’t think this was a concern. But when it was Big Mama’s turn to farrow, the new piglets had to compete with ‘the adolescents’, as we started calling the now two-week-olds, and they didn’t compete well. Big Mama had given birth to seven piglets of her own (of which one was stillborn and another squashed again), and they were no match for Keen’s solid little progeny. Within 24 hours, we’d closed Big Mama and her brood in away from the others, but the damage had been done - the new piglets had missed out on their mama’s colostrum.

When one fell sick at about a week old, we were perplexed. She was having trouble walking, and I thought perhaps it was an overlooked case of splay leg. We brought her inside to keep her warm and feed her various concoctions based on recipes from old-school pig-rearing books, other pig farmers, and observation of what she liked to eat. The bottle failed (was she simply too small still?), but we could get a decent mix of raw cow’s milk with a bit of sweetened condensed milk and corn meal into her with the syringe, and soon she was happy to slurp it from a flat dish.

But the little piglet’s appetite was very changeable, and her willingness to walk was as well. She appeared to be in pain when she stood up. The day before Stuart and I were to fly to Tassie to visit Mount Gnomon and Black Ridge free-range pig farms, she seemed stronger, and Antigone had proven a good nursemaid.

While we were away, the dear little piglet struggled on, and then came the call from our friend Clare, who was looking after the farm & its menagerie of animals and kids while we were away: another sick piglet, same symptoms. Clare and Antigone (and Stuart’s parents, who also did a stint of farmsitting during our five-day Tassie adventure) did their best, feeding both sick piglets and keeping them warm.

The night we returned, the first little sick piglet looked frightfully frail, and died overnight. Stuart took the second one to the vet that day, and though the local vet doesn’t have a great deal of experience with pigs, he thought it was probably a kind of pig arthritis bacterial illness, contracted through the umbilical cord, leaving the piglets incapacitated with painful joints. He didn’t believe she would recover, and so she was put down with a lethal injection. At $80 for the consult and shot, this will not prove to be a viable way to humanely euthanise sick piglets, an issue we’re now discussing.

Alas, a couple days on and one of Big Mama’s remaining two piglets showed symptoms of the same illness. By this stage, we were in contact with Chris Richards and Associates, who are specialist pig vets. They were scheduled to visit us the next week. So we started giving the new sick piglet supplementary feeds, but leaving her out with the others to hopefully keep her stronger and more competitive with the others. She responded well to the increased feeds and began to put on weight.

When the vet visited a week ago, she was pleased with the little piglet’s progress and thought that with some penicillin she would get over the illness entirely. In fact, she made a full recovery before the penicillin even arrived a few days later. We’ll always wonder whether the second one would have been saveable as well.

As well as the sick piglet, however, it seems Keen was losing weight too quickly - those six little suckers are clearly very avid feeders and now a robust six weeks old. So we made a quick decision - we put Keen on her own with Big Mama’s two dear little piglets to ensure the sick one especially doesn’t have to compete for lots of healthy mama’s milk, while giving Keen extra rations, and left the rowdy six out with Big Mama, meanwhile giving all of them endless supplies of spent brewer’s grain, fresh, crushed commercial grain and the usual (no meat) kitchen scraps, including whey from my cheesemaking.

Come November, we’ll be shipping the same piglets we’ve worked so hard to protect off to the abattoir. I’ve named our little survivor ‘Charlotte’ as a roundbaout nod to Wilbur, but we’ll still send her to the abs. As an article in the Huffington post recently said,

“Ethical meat eating begins with ensuring the animals we eat live well, and ends with an open-eyed acknowledgement of what we do to turn those animals into dinner,”

and the author argues that we should ‘love, kill and eat’ them. It’s simply not right to refuse to love animals while they’re alive - that’s how we ended up with an industrialised animal farming system, where animals are referred to as ‘production units’. It’s complex territory, this loving the animals you want on your plate, but we’re up to it.



The Great Container Conversion

In May 2011, we had a moving/storage/accommodation challenge. We needed to move all our material trappings from Melbourne up to our new farm near Daylesford, but store them for four months while we traipsed across America, and then accommodate our growing (vertically, not numerically) family in a small three-bedroom house on the farm. The obvious solution was a shipping container for all three jobs. That’s how we came to buy a high-top 40-foot container rather than simply hiring one to do our move. It cost us $2500, plus $500 to get it delivered to us in the suburbs and then hauled up to Daylesford.

The day the container arrived, we watched in trepidation lest the truck’s cranes broke the low wires overhead…

Then we filled it up… to the top, grateful we had an enormous shed at the other end to supplement our new little house…

Our intrepid truckie, Bluey, arrived to collect the now-heavy container, and drove it fearlessly through the rain and up our slippery, narrow driveway onto the farm. I held my breath the entire time, certain there was a very expensive towing bill in our near future, but Bluey was amazing, and our life’s treasures were planted carefully in front of the shed to wait out the winter while we gallivanted off to a life-changing northern summer.

25,000km of flying, 7000km of driving and a full season later, we returned to commence our new life as farmers. Our design for the interior of the container was inspired by the RockVan (a 1977 GMC motorhome), which had terrarium-like windows that made us feel constantly connected to the outside world. I demanded my bed replicate the RockVan pleasures of waking to the gentle visage of trees and sky, and embed the night sky’s constellations in tranquil sweet dreams.

I had imagined cranes and costs and the stress of working with contractors to move the container into position as our new bedroom/office with ensuite, but Stuart had better ideas. All we had to buy were some pine fence posts, which we needed anyway for, well, fencing, and borrow Stuart’s folks’ 4WD. Oh, and faith. 20 years with this man has taught me faith…

Stuart dragged the container into place, using eight round fence posts as rollers. In total, he had to move it about 50m, and 90 degrees. Genius. He then jacked it up and put pad footings with brick piers under each corner.

The building commenced in earnest then, with the roof we had pulled off the house’s superfluous, low carport becoming a fabulous feature on the container.

Stuart ordered double-glazed, aluminium-framed windows and doors for this and another 20-foot container due to be converted next for guests (The Guest Container…) for a total of $5500, including delivery, of which about $3500 was for the big container. Stuart wanted me to be sure to warn you all about dealing directly with suppliers in China, as quality can vary, and the logistics require a lot of knowledge and time, but he has been dealing with manufacturers there for the past 10 years.

He cut the door and windows out with an oxy torch, which he learned how to use by watching YouTube videos… (nobody mention The Infamous Thumb Injury.)

He framed up the inside and we installed the (very heavy!) windows, before fully insulating - the roof is reflective aircell, and the walls are a mixture of secondhand and new recycled pink batting (R2.0). We got an electrician in for the day to wire everything up at a cost of about $1000. Stuart roughed in the plumbing himself for the bathroom.

The walls were then skinned with plasterboard, and painted entirely with paint sourced from the local waste transfer station.

The panelling above our bed was a discovery from underneath one of the houses we used to live in, and because the container is quite narrow, Stuart built a shelf at our head for books and bits. The bed is also intentionally quite high to capture that feeling of sleeping in the garden we had experienced through the glorious state parks of America, as mentioned above. :-)

We lined the bathroom with corrugated tin to maintain the industrial/Australian aesthetic, found a pedestal sink at the waste transfer station, and bought a fancy composting toilet for $600.

The shower has exposed copper plumbing (another score from under our old house), a slate floor with stone sourced at the Trentham secondhand building supplier’s for $30, and tempered glass from the same source that cost us $100.

Stuart sealed the beautiful hardwood floor in the bathroom, we hung an old mirror we inherited somewhere over the last decade, and we’re on the lookout for a charming little old bathroom cupboard. A brass towel rail completes the picture.

So all up, our ‘parents’ retreat’ cost us about $9000 - that includes purchase, delivery and all building materials - which we reckon is pretty good, especially since it also bought us four months’ storage of all our belongings and our entire move up here!

Working in the container is incredibly pleasant, as the room is full of light from so many windows, and consistently warmer or cooler than the poorly insulated house with its single-glazed windows. It also gives us a genuine retreat from the kids, who, no matter how beloved they may be, are still noisy in the way of children…

The only thing the container can’t contain is our joy at being here, on the farm, in such lovely trappings. :-)



Tales of Jonai Gardens Past and Present

Before we were farmers, we were gardeners. Our suburban backyards have been farm-like for 20 years – a fact frequently noted by friends at our regular solstice and equinox gatherings.

Our first garden was out the back of a rental brick venereal on busy Shannon Avenue in Geelong in 1992. We were 21 years old. Although we were only there for six months, I mattocked out of the lawn some six rows, each around six metres long, while Stuart constructed a greenhouse with the same-size footprint from scavenged metal framework and old plastic. This is where I learned that broccoli and coriander bolt in summer, zucchinis keep growing beyond edibility if you don't pick them while they're small, and spinach is a generous gift that keeps on giving. We even planted gum trees out front in hopes of screening the house a bit from the traffic – rather ambitious for short-term tenants! We still drive past every few years just to see how those trees have grown... last we checked they were over 8 metres high.

Nine months in a log cabin on the South Umpqua River in Oregon in '94 saw us establish a four by five metre plot where strawberries reigned supreme.

So keen were we to learn more and contribute to organic food production that we spent a fortnight on an organic ginger farm on the Big Island of Hawaii WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). We learned how to harvest papayas with a long stick of bamboo with a rubber stopper on the end, and coconuts with an even longer stick with a blade. Farmer Andy taught us not to waste precious energy in the heat shaking dirt off the weeds as we pulled them easily from the hyper-fertile soil, and before we left told me if I wasn't already married to Stuart, he would have proposed. ;-)

A few years later we arrived with six-month old Oscar to a tiny little rental on the lower west side of Santa Cruz, California, where we would spend two years. The front yard was razed earth and the back was concrete to a five-car garage. I hired a till, had a truckload of mushroom compost delivered, and established the most productive garden we've ever had on one side of the front path, and a postage stamp of lawn & cottage flower border for Oscar and his new sister to play in when she arrived a year later. I rang up a local tennis club and secured two of their old nets to use as fencing to keep the toddlers in and the dogs out, and that intense little garden was the wonderland where Oscar learned that mummy wasn't kidding when she said don't eat the Serrano chilies. We sat on the miniscule front porch and watched as gophers pulled whole corn stalks deep into their tunnels, and returned from a long weekend to discover that all 20 or so of our madly abundant tomato crop had been infected with late blight from the relentless summer fog, and were putrefying on the stalks.

Back in Melbourne, in the back garden that separated the house we rented from Stuart's parents from their house, we laboriously re-shaped the beds with gentle curves and circles of bluestone designed in conjunction with a round chook tractor, and I hand pounded hundreds of bricks into a spiral patio under the date palm where we could dine and gaze across the herb spiral at our bounty.

And then two more rentals started to kill our spirit, and Stuart planted haphazardly while I charged off on work missions and left the garden behind. So tired of sculpting spaces of such aromatic and aesthetic pleasure only to leave them behind in the hands of landlords who quickly returned them to lawn, I'd lost my gardening mojo. Stuart, though a chaotic planter, remained ever committed and still managed to keep us in some tomatoes and leafy greens and what seemed like acres of Jerusalem artichokes and horseradish, and we've never been without pots and pots of basil in summer, and mint, rosemary and lemon verbena are the first things we establish in every new garden somewhere close to the kitchen door.

And then we arrived at Jonai Farms. And it's ours. And it's 69 acres of fertile alluvial soils teeming with worms. I got my mojo back with a vengeance.

We'd always intended to let the pigs turn the soil – long devotees of the principles of permaculture, we'd relied on chooks in our gardens for weeding and fertilising for these many years. Now we would have bigger tractors who can do more than scratch, they can dig! One of the reasons we chose the Large Black pigs was for their rooting power – they are renowned for being one of the best foraging breeds, so we figured they'll work perfectly in a paddock rotation system where we plant fodder crops after they've turned the soil to eat when they return to that paddock. But first, dig us a vegie garden, please!

And dig they did, creating us a patch 15 x 30 metres where we could plant to our hearts' desire. Taking the lazy path, we laid newspaper and cardboard over all of it, had 8 cubic metres of mushroom compost delivered and laid it out in rows (with the help of a few lovely visitors such as Zoe & Owy and Clare & Warren), finally laying old woollen carpet and underlay that Stuart's been scavenging on every trip to Melbourne or Ballarat down the paths.

About a month ago it was ready for planting, and in went the rhubarb we'd managed to keep alive in a pot even through four months of sitting up here while we drove across America. I'll take you on a little photo tour now...

We also decided to put in our herb garden just outside the back door and under what will be our bedroom window when the container conversion is finished – as Des said, it's our 'sensory garden'. :-)

And a grape vine to climb up and hang above our new bedroom window...

As Joel Salatin says as he offers his blessings:

May all your carrots grow long and straight, may the foxes be struck blind by your chickens, may your customers love cooking your food in their kitchens, may the rains be gentle on your pastures, may your fields grow with soil, may your earthworms dance with celebration, may the wind be always at your back, your children rise up and call you blessed, and may we all leave a better world than we found…



On milk, farming, and life

Everyone's crying over spilt milk, or rather the calves who are sacrificed so that we may drink milk. Dairy farmers are crying over the reputational damage to their livelihood – and it's not exactly a cushy job commanding six-figure salaries. And it seems to me that everyone is a little bit right, and a little bit wrong, but that there is a clear way forward.

To backtrack, this Animals Australia video which depicts the short life of a 'bobby calf' in a manner designed to evoke the most emotion possible managed to upset consumers and farmers equally, from what I can tell. According to the dairy farmers who are commenting on thoughtful blogs such as @milkmaidmarian's, they don't send their calves straight to the abattoir, and are acutely conscious of the value of each life they nurture and take on their farms. They frequently make the point that it is the city-based consumers who are too often utterly unaware (and uncaring?) of the conditions under which their food is grown.

I think it's fantastic that animal welfare groups apply pressure to the livestock industry for humane treatment during an animal's life and at its death. As an omnivore, I'm frankly not that interested (but also not really fussed) in being told I shouldn't eat meat – I've made my choices thoughtfully and I'm happy with that – but I do want my meat ethically produced.

I also think it's fantastic that farmers like Marian speak up about their practices, which are different from those displayed in the Animals Australia video. I know the dairy farmer near us has a similar practice – he raises the bull calves to 2 years then sells them for beef (and not for a lot of money, remember, as Friesians are not considered great eating for primal cuts) and the heifers are grown to be more milkers on the farm. I applaud farmers like Marian joining in pressuring for ethical treatment of animals – people like her can help by demonstrating alternatives.

But of course the reason the video exists is because there are apparently 700,000 bobby calves going to slaughter at around five days old – they are 'waste products' – and their few days of life entail an existence with which most people are deeply uncomfortable, both for its apparent brutality but also its brevity. I know I'm uncomfortable with the system, and grateful to be in a position to choose organic milk from a farm whose practices I know and trust.

I'm very conscious of the sensitivities in these debates – nobody wants to be 'that guy who abuses animals', and 'abuse' is far more relative than any of us care to admit. People running intensive animal operations (or CAFOs, aka 'factory farms') claim that the animals in their care are 'happy', 'fine', 'safe', or 'healthy', but by my definition that's simply impossible, because I believe in respecting the 'pigness of the pig', as Joel Salatin says. So for me, farm animals should be able to graze, dig, forage, scratch and wander in a manner as close to how they would if we weren't constraining them with some fences and the like as possible. But every time a consumer is happy to buy intensively-farmed chicken (or pork, or beef...), s/he is complicit in the system, and I have been too at times.

But when consumers (or the media or government) cry out in horror over the treatment of animals, they should think long and hard about the precarious position most farmers are in. Farms are at the mercy of the elements, which in this age of climate change has seen Australian farmers cope with constant rounds of drought and floods. Add to this an ever-narrowing range of distribution and retail outlets who control farm gate prices, which have plateaued for years in the face of rising costs of production.

As my limited experience as a producer grows and my interactions with other farmers deepens, I am keenly aware of how difficult it is to simply make a living producing food. And if all the farmers like us are forced out by low prices, consumers will be left with only intensive farms, the same ones where bobby calves are waste products, and pigs and chickens are raised in sheds.

So my thoughts are this: we farmers need to be transparent in our practices and let consumers judge for themselves whether they're happy with how we treat our animals and the land. The internet is our friend – we can show pictures and tell the stories of our animals (well, slowly slowly until there's a National Broadband Network, but that's another post), so long as we are happy with what we're doing. Those who won't show us their animals certainly seem to be hiding something, though they protest they're not. As @greenvalefarm said recently, 'transparency is the best certification'.

And as consumers, we need to ask questions and listen to farmers. We need to value the people producing our food, both socially and economically. We need to better understand that the reason that farm gate prices may not have been immediately impacted by Coles dropping its price to $1 per litre for milk is because farmers have been getting around 50 cents per litre for over a decade anyway – any extra cash goes into the pockets of processors and retailers (that is, Coles and Woolworths, who have 80% market share in Australia).

I'm happy to pay a lot more than $1 per litre for my milk, but I want the extra to go back to farmers, not to those who would 'value add' to a product that I think is best straight from the cow! If you want that too, @flavourcrusader has an excellent alt.milk list on her wonderful blog.



I'm a farmer (so is my husband)

This was originally posted on Tammi Tasting Terroir, but the point was made that it is an important conversation for farmers, so I'm cross posting it here. :-)

'How does it feel to be a farmer's wife?'

'It feels great TO BE A FARMER, and ah, I dunno, I've been married to Stuart for a bajillion years – feels kinda the same as always to be his wife.'


'I'll go ask Stuart where to plant this,' our helper for the day says TO ME and walks away to find him.


'You don't have the strength or the skills to do what he does.'


These are just some of the phrases that have made me despair in these first two months of farming. We came here with a shared vision – to be sustainable, ethical pig farmers. We'd been heading towards this decision for a long time, and once we worked out what we wanted to farm, we spent the year researching pigs – emphasis is on we. We came armed with a reasonable amount of knowledge for city slickers, but also with a huge learning curve ahead of both of us.

I was obviously aware that sexism is an issue in agriculture, I just didn't consider how it would affect me. As a vocal feminist in academic (and previously secondary education and corporate) spaces, I'm no stranger to sexism in the workplace. But I thought I had a handle on it. Anyone can see from my blog and interactions with me that I (as part of we) have become a farmer – this is the newest phase in my many lives, and I am embracing it wholeheartedly.

So here we are on the farm, learning together. We have a mad menagerie of animals for whom I have largely assumed the leadership. Both of us care for them, but overall, I spend a bit more time feeding them, obsessing about their well being, and drafting a whole farm plan that will guide our paddock rotations and fodder planting schedule. We both spend hours out there working on fences.

Stuart's dad described this to me as, 'You're a planner, and Stuart's a do-er'. With all due respect, while it's true that I am more of a planner and Stuart can't seem to stop doing, I hardly think my planning habits are slowing down my doings, and I am growing the forearms to prove it! Ah, but see, there I go – being defensive. Oh, how I despise being put in this corner.

I have never been anything's wife. I've always been my own thing who happens to be married.

One of the most exasperating aspects of the seemingly relentless gendering of farmers is the ways in which we do in fact fall into traditional roles. The most obvious one occurs around cooking. I have not given up my role as the primary cook in our house, a role I happen to adore. But it results in me coming in from the paddocks an hour or more before Stuart (and other helpers on the farm) to do meal prep, and consequently less involvement outside, especially when others are here to stay. So visitors witness me inside more, and I feel the need to be there to provide for everyone – compounding both their stereotypes and my frustration.

There are other behaviours that compound the gender roles – Stuart's background is in building, so of course his skillset while we construct fences, erect new gates, and convert a shipping container into our new bedroom and study is a bit more useful than mine. I therefore defer to him on building matters, which I think is the right thing to do for quality control. :-) But this also leads to further assumptions about who is doing what and how much, most of which involve assuming Stuart is a farmer and I'm a homemaker.

Stuart is a lot stronger than me, but in fact very little of the work requires mega-strength, and most can be done by normal strength people such as myself, especially if we work in pairs. Sure, Stuart can lift and carry huge fence posts inhuman distances, but I'd venture to say most farmers actually either couldn't, or just wouldn't. They'd use tools rather than brute strength, just as I do.

It's interesting that nobody ever felt compelled to call me a 'builder's wife' or similar – perhaps partially because our professional identities were distinct? But farming is such a masculine space in Australia – nobody has asked Stuart how it feels to be a farmer's husband, I can assure you. And it's such a disenfranchising experience having people fail to see you – in no other profession have people failed to acknowledge me for my work.

Let's face it, we're both learning farming skills and we're both out there building and fixing fences, digging holes, feeding animals, and planting trees and fodder crops. I wouldn't ask anyone to call me a builder, which I'm not, but I do want the respect of being called a farmer, because I am one.



Pigs and chicks and cattle, oh my!

Yesterday I spent the better part of the day watching chicks hatch. My commitment, however, paled in comparison to Antigone's, who was awake and perched over the incubator at 5:45am, patiently watching the dear little beaks as they worked at the arduous task of birth from a hard shell. I never really thought about just how hard it is for birds to be born, and how different to a human birth, where the mama does the hard work while the bub copes with the big squeeze. Chicks are these tiny, weak, and fragile creatures, struggling to get a start on life in the open air. It was one of the most enthralling days I've had, perfectly rounded out sitting in the paddock in the evening with a glass of wine watching the pigs adjust after we separated Borg to keep him from impregnating Big Mama too soon.

What an enormous learning curve the first month of being 'real' farmers with livestock has been! We came here to be pig farmers, but ended up with cattle nearly a month before pigs, and here we are, finally on the land, experiencing our first time without chickens in over a decade! And then there's the dog...

So Danny Boy came first. Like many new farmers, we reckoned we needed a cattle dog if we were going to have stock. We may have been wrong. We've learned that Australian Cattle Dogs (the real name of Heelers) are so deeply bred to round up stock that it takes some concerted effort to teach them not to chase them unless you want them to. It took two steers jumping through the fences to teach us this lesson. A few days of taking Danny Boy on the lead amongst the cattle seems to have mostly taught him that they're not fair nipping game (thanks to @kristinmoore2 & @Colvinius for the tips!). We're still working on that in regards to the parade of children regularly gracing the farm, but he's learning...

The Lowlines were second. On a rainy, muddy day, we set out with the Volvo ('spot the rookies', I tweeted), picked up our hired livestock trailer, and brought the neat dozen home in two shifts, with the Volvo straining at the tonnage all the way, in trepidation lest we got bogged backing up to the boggy yards.

Alas, all went well and our boys are gaining rapidly. They're 4-7 months old, and will be with us for over a year, serving as excellent lawnmowers on our luscious grass before most are sold for beef locally and one for our own fodder for the year. In the meanwhile, I wake most mornings to a glorious sunrise while the 'cows are in the meadow, eating buttercups.'

Finding it a bit difficult to source heritage chooks nearby, we decided to go the route of fertile eggs. Stuart picked up a dozen Speckled Sussex and half a dozen Auracana eggs from a breeder in Woodend, who threw in a couple of bantam Auracanas as well. Those are the ones we're watching hatch at the moment, which is not only fascinating, but also no end of stress for those of us who are over endowed with empathy. It is excruciating to watch these tender new lives struggle to stand up on the first day, and losing one as it was hatching for reasons beyond us was very sad for everyone. I'm a little worried about one of the Sussex at the moment as well...

We had another dozen Plymouth Rock fertile eggs posted to us from Wallan, and much to our dismay received the carton with five breakages. As these breeds go for $45 a dozen, that's a pretty bad result, and we won't be doing mail order again. In fact, having watched these little daily miracles once, we'll let the hens do the work to hatch in future, and the incubator is now slated for cheese making.

But finally, the pigs. Oh, the glorious pigs!

Our six beautiful Large Blacks, a boar and five gilts, arrived late one night from the breeder in Bendigo, and hit the paddock eating. I could watch them for hours, whether they're sleeping in a porcine sardine arrangement (a phrase offered by the wonderful @th3littleredhen),

trotting across the paddock, ears flopping madly enough that I'm sure pigs do fly, or simply eating like pigs. We're learning their different grunts and squeals, and they're treating us like one of the family, eagerly stepping on our toes as we go in to feed them their morning and evening grains, often wet with whey from my cheese making or a tea of garlic, ginger and fennel for the colds two picked up in transit.

I had to go to Adelaide for an international education conference last week, and my waking thought was, 'oh, I hope I'm in time for sunrise and then I'll go see the pigs!' followed by 'oh, I'm in Adelaide, <sadface>'. Atticus, with the most finely tuned animal whisperer aura in the family, spends hours amongst the pigs, usually on all fours, mimicking their swinish habits.


As I'm writing this, our dairy farmer neighbour has just driven 20 Friesians over to agist on our side of the volcano. We struck this deal a week ago, cross-armed and broad stanced next to the tractor, when he delivered us a couple rounds of hay for pig bedding. It suits us all, as we need stock to eat more of the abundant feed in our paddocks and his animals need more feed. So now when I look up the hill past my darling black pigs, it's speckled with the rurally romantic view of gorgeous black and white dairy cows.

So is farming life all we thought it would be? Absolutely, and then some. It's a huge (and welcome) learning curve, and the reality of no travel for awhile is sinking in, but our only regret so far is that we didn't make this move sooner.

That's it for now, I've got chicks and pigs to watch...



And so we are farmers...

If you hashtag it, it will come. For over a year on Twitter (aka the twitterz), I had been using #Immabeafarmer as we scoured the area around food-friendly Daylesford for a farm. In fact, the story really starts in 1995, as I wrote on Tammi Tasting Terroir... But the reason you're reading this now is because our dream has finally been realised and this beautiful 69 acres is ours!

But who are we? Why, we're the Jonai.

I'm Tammi, aka @tammois on the twitterz, committed and happy cook, cultural theorist still mid-PhD, proud mama to a brood of clever, kind and ethically-minded awesome kids, and partner in all ways to...


Stuart, aka @solarvox, the brewer, the baker & the preserve-maker, seller of solar thermal systems, tinkerer and project man, no longer a wannabe farmer, and much-beloved Dada to...


Oscar, Antigone & Atticus, budding engineers, artists, and vets, not to mention damned fine cooks.

And then there's Daphne kitteh, who's still not at all sure she's cut out for country living.

And the newest member of the Jonai, Danny Boy, our 5-month-old Red Heeler, who seems determined to train his humans.

We've been here just over three weeks now, and already we know more than we ever dreamed we might about rural life, though we have a loooong way to go on farming knowledge.

What we do know is that being on the land is good for us, and we intend to be good for it. And we look forward to sharing it with you all virtually, but also right here on the soil for those able to visit.

And so here are a few short vignettes from early days:

What Internet?

We pre-ordered internet from iiNet while we were still overseas, and had been assured we'd get ADSL1. Upon arrival, we were told we'd have it by Friday. On Friday, we learned it might be up to three weeks as they needed another port at the exchange. What did that mean, I wondered, was it like waiting at a restaurant for a table? Did we have to wait for someone to finish before we could eat? No, we were assured a new port would be installed, but actually it might be up to three months.

The next week, we learned that actually that was impossible, and that Telstra (as the wholesaler) had no intention of upgrading the exchange, especially as they're now waiting for the rollout of the NBN. Soooo, in fact, iiNet could not offer us ADSL1 at all. And the final guy we spoke with sheepishly offered us mobile broadband, but when we pointed out how poor our reception is on our phones here, he just sort of grimaced and offered us our money back. Seriously.

Finally, we rang Telstra, and a week later we had mobile broadband, which actually comes with an antenna to improve reception, and which is mostly reliable, though it does seem to have mysterious little breaks from the job. The speed isn't great, but we've been on 3G for months now anyway, so what do we know?

Stuart finds a Snake

You'd think, given we arrived three days before the end of winter, that snakes would not be a great concern just yet. And you'd be right if you weren't Stuart, and didn't go sticking your hand up a stormwater pipe to work out what's blocking it down by the home dam. As he tugged on what he initially took to be strong, thick grass, his primal brain started to kick in just as he got the brown snake to the mouth of the pipe – SNAKE!

He let go before the snake's head made it out of the pipe, thankfully, and it slithered back up to what was probably its quiet winter hibernation spot, until the Jonai moved in, that is. An hour later he popped down to see whether it had cleared out, only to find it in striking position just in front of him. He used the shovel to whack it and that was it for the poor old snake, though I'm pretty happy it didn't turn out to be a child or the dog who found it as springtime warms things up.

The story is vastly improved by its epilogue, whereby Atticus takes the snake to school in vinegar in a glass jar, only to drop it as he shows it to his new teacher and classmates (on his third day at the new school, no less). With snake, vinegar and glass all over her classroom floor, Ms G rather graciously suggested that 'next time, perhaps not in a glass jar?'

What does power have to do with water?

We've lost power twice in big storms since we arrived. That in itself is not such a big thing, surely, except that when the power goes, so does the water. We're exclusively on rainwater, and the tank closest to the house has to be pumped in. The second time it happened we went without power for about 17 hours, which led Stuart to work out that if he switched us over to the tank up by the shed it will gravity feed, albeit with low pressure. Phew! No more hauling water in by hand!

Some other farmers on the twitterz commented 'just be glad it didn't happen while you were in the shower!' and recommended keeping the kettle full and a sizeable vessel of water by the back door. Thank you for this excellent advice. :-)


We've been blessed with really lovely neighbours, which has reinforced every stereotype we hold of 'people being friendlier in the country'. But stereotype or not, we really are lucky here. They've already popped 'round for a cup of tea, or to drop off a cake, offer local knowledge and advice about where to get our firewood – in fact one neighbour, half an hour after we met him, left us a note offering us his ute to collect wood if we needed it, saying the 'keys are in it'.

One also told us they already knew all about us, as the woman at the grocery is her good friend and I'd said hello and that we'd have three kids at the school... so she was expecting us at the bus stop that first morning. :-) We don't expect to keep any secrets here...

Farming Life

I know this first post is rather homely and not so farmy, but you can expect much more about the workings of Jonai Farms as we bring in more stock. Our dozen Lowlines have settled in well and Danny Boy is learning not to bark excitedly when they wander over towards the nearest fence. I'll write about the fencing we've done soon to prepare for the pigs, and the many things we've learned from others and from simply doing the work along the way. Our first fertile eggs arrived today – Plymouth Rocks and Auracanas, and we're waiting on Speckled Sussex to arrive shortly.

However, rural life, with all its domestic concerns and delights, will also feature on The Hedonist Life, as we strive to give you some insight into what it's like outside of metropolitan Australia.

I already wrote about the rhythms of our cooking, eating & heating at Jonai Farms over on my food cultures blog, which I'll continue to do.

A note on The Hedonist Life

As we prepared to make this move to Jonai Farms, many people commented on how it reminded them of The Good Life, The Simple Life, or, perhaps more pointedly, Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. And indeed I suspect there will be scripts from all such shows just waiting to play themselves out here in Eganstown.

I've written elsewhere about hedonism – about following a pleasure principle whereby one's driving motivation should be to seek pleasure, both for yourself and for others – and your pleasure should not be at the expense of another's. Vegetarians may quibble that because we eat the animals we raise happily, we are contradicting the principle, and I won't deny that the truest form of the principle could really only be vegan.

But for reasons I suspect I will need to write about in the future, we don't believe a vegan diet is necessary, nor naturally the best diet for humans, though reduced meat consumption is. So while we want you to eat our pork, we'd recommend you don't eat it too often, nor any other meat product. Kind of a weird sales pitch, right? We're not in this business to get rich by making the world sick, we're here to make it better. And we are having the loveliest time doing so, hence we reckon we're living The Hedonist Life. Stick around if you're into pleasure.