In Part Two of Grow Your Ethics, I wrote about supply chain control and connectedness.

In Part Three, I’ll share:

how and why we avoid a growth and competitive mentality,

how we manage the farm with fair labour,

what radical transparency has meant to us over these past few years, and

how all of these parts of our system come together to nourish us and our community while still respecting the pigness of the pig.

We live in a world that values productivism – the idea that more production is a necessary good. That we should constantly strive to produce more, and that society’s (economic) well-being is based on increasing production.

Sustainable intensification’ is a logical outcome of the productivist mindset, but under what conditions can we intensify production in a way that is in fact sustainable? If it involves putting more animals on less land, many would argue that it is impossible to do so sustainably. Concentration of effluence alone creates an environmental dilemma that requires more energy, infrastructure and externalization of the problem as the effluence is hauled offsite or, in worst-case scenarios, pollutes local waterways.

As long ago as 1975, British economist E.F. Schumacher declared that:

Infinite growth in consumption in a world of finite resources is an impossibility.

40 years later, we are still being told that we must grow the economy, get big or get out, and work to economies of scale to be as efficient as we can be.

At Jonai Farms, we agree with Schumacher’s claim that ‘small is beautiful’, and we are committed to running an ethically-viable no-growth model.

That is, we are led by our ethics, which we understand must be financially viable for us to survive and thrive. And our ethics include a rejection of productivism that we believe is the root of the current problems inherent in the industrial food system.

I’ve written previously on the need for an ‘ethics of scale’ rather than economies of scale. We’re currently living proof that it works, with a healthy profit margin that ensures we can pay all our bills, look after our animals properly, and still manage to travel each year to expand horizons and strengthen the family bonds.

We don’t compete with the other wonderful growers around us, we collaborate, support, and promote each others’ efforts.

We don’t need to scale, we need to multiply.

More small farms means more people on the land, which means thriving rural communities, which drives better resourcing of regional and rural towns. It means buses full of healthy children streaming into dynamic and diverse schools, and access to food grown locally by people you know personally.

There is no disadvantage in having more farms growing more food, whereas there are uncountable negative consequences of scaling farms. Scale decreases the number of people working the land, and increases automation typically through higher petroleum consumption. Bigger farms are demonstrably less diverse, and monocultures are riskier systems, which require higher chemical inputs to manage.

Small-scale agroecological farms like ours are more labour intensive, which we value as it means more people learning and earning an income, and a richer community on the farm. But one of the wicked problems of the emerging fair food farming movement is how to treat farm workers as well as farm owners fairly.  

We have a diverse approach to solving this problem at Jonai.

In terms of paid labour, we have a school-based farm apprentice, the wonderful Will, who works with Stuart 2.5 days/week. As the daily farming operation is technically manageable by one person, having Will here is of most benefit to progress further works – new building projects, more fencing, and soon, introducing egg chickens into our system behind the cattle on the paddocks.

We also have my head meat grrl Jass, who is paid to work with me in the boning room for the two major pork-cutting days (out of five processing days) each fortnight.

Next we have our volunteer residency program, a three-month opportunity to learn our system back to front. Our residents live on the farm with us in purpose-built accommodation (a converted 20-foot container with lovely views over home dam), and/or in the solar-powered hut next door on our lovely neighbours’ property, which we barter for with meat. J

Residents work five days per week with us, and are welcome to spend weekends here or away as suits them. They assist out on the paddocks through to the boning room and kitchen – wherever the need is greatest on any given day. We all sit down to three cooked meals each day and discuss farm logistics, new projects, and food politics ‘til the cows come home.

Finally, I run a meatsmith roster as we’ve had so much interest from people wanting to learn to butcher from me (especially women – Meat Grrl Mondays are legendary!). So on any given butchery day we’ll have one or two other volunteers lending a hand, learning to cut, and playing Captain Cryovac. They never leave without a thank you in the form of some Jonai uncommonly delicious ethical meats.

In regular conversations with the stream of helpers paid and voluntary, we ensure that our system is fair for all involved. While confident that we’re offering appropriate value to our volunteers, we’re very conscious of the need to seek feedback that everyone feels they are being treated fairly.

Short-term internships and voluntary residencies, it seems to me, are a great way to balance the problem of the need for extra hands on the farm with insufficient cash flow to employ a lot of people. But anything longer than about three months on a farm like ours would run the risk of exploiting that labour as by then people have mastered the systems to the point where they are a very useful and indeed autonomous part of the farm.

We semi-regularly take a few weeks or a month off from having residents to test that the farm is manageable without them – if it wasn’t, we believe we should pay for the labour in addition to the room, board and tuition we already provide. Each time we find that we can still run the farm on our own with our two paid employees, but it’s not nearly as fun and is a very demanding schedule!

This level of detail and honest accounting for our system brings me to the importance of radical transparency at Jonai Farms & Meatsmiths.

Over these past four years we have shared our successes (crowdfunding & butchery, hurray!) and failures (the regulator destroyed our salami, boo!), and the minutiae of our decision-making processes. Sometimes it has been hard to be so open – we copped a lot of criticism (mostly from vegan abolitionists, but also from other quarters) when we told you on Radio National of our decision to castrate, for example. And we’ve also been given a huge amount of positive feedback and support for our sharing.

We share to keep ourselves accountable to all of you, to our animals, and to the land. We share so that others don’t have to reinvent the wheel or make the same mistakes we have. We share because for too long food has been grown invisibly, and people have a right and need to know just how your food is produced. We share because we’re in this for the movement, and we want to help grow more farmers, not push them aside in order to pursue endless growth ourselves.

Ultimately what we’re really about at Jonai Farms is connectedness. Our connections keep us honest and ethical. A strong connection to the pigs and cattle carries a responsibility to ensure they only have that ‘one bad day’. And the daily feeding, wallow checking and litter admiring means feet on the ground and eyes on the paddocks, which ensures we’re accountable to our soils. If an area has been hit hard by too many pigs, it’s immediately apparent – we reject moonscaping the paddocks as unsustainable land management.

Connection to our workers holds us accountable to a fair day’s work for everyone. You can’t sit down to three meals a day together and look your workers in the eyes if you’re treating them unfairly. We have been blessed with so many intelligent, hard working, passionate, and fun people over these past few years, and we’re ever grateful for all of their contributions.

Jonai community dinner.jpg

Connection to our community here in the central highlands of Victoria involves a lot of bartering, sharing, helping and being helped.

And connection to our eaters is what makes us most accountable of all. Our food must not only be delicious, it must be as fair as we say it is, and critically, it must also be safe. If something goes wrong, we know every person we have sold our food to – there’s no hiding behind a long supply chain and the capacity to be faceless behind a slew of distributors and retailers. If Jonai pork makes you sick, you’re going to ring the Jonai.

Connectedness is knowledge, pleasure, and accountability.

Small is beautiful.

Ethics are delicious.