It's been awhile between posts, but the long one below will explain why... for those who don't want to read the whole long story of what's happened to transform Jonai Farms into Jonai Farms and Meatsmiths, here's a spoiler - we're now a licensed butcher's shop as well as ethical farmers of pastured pigs and cattle! Remember back when we said we'd be farmers? Well, here we are just two years after arriving with heads and hearts full of book learning and knowledge gleaned from visits to the wonderful farmers in Australia and America who've gone before us, and our herd has grown from six pigs to about 120 - and now we're butchers too!
As every small livestock producer doing direct sales to their community of eaters knows, finding a reputable butcher who has the time and inclination to cut your meat, whether it's once a month or once a week, is a difficult task. In fact, although we'd been cautioned by other free-range pig farmers to make sure we locked in a butcher early, we were still taken by surprise when it took nearly three months to find one who would work with us. One was openly rude - a sort of, 'why in the world would I want you to pay me to cut your meat' stance, one just had too much work on his hands already, and another actually wouldn't cut to our specifications over-charged us to boot. Finally we found the fabulous Sal of Salvatore Regional Butcher in Ballan, a half-hour drive from home.
By the time we found Sal, we'd also started talking to the meat regulator in Victoria, PrimeSafe, about our options for either sharing a commercial kitchen with someone to do our own cutting (not allowed) or setting up a boning room here on the farm (difficult but not impossible). Note that early conversations with the regulator were stilted - they won't give any advice as to how to meet operational standards, which can make it pretty bewildering for those just starting out. So when I first spoke with Sal, I mentioned that we had a mad idea to build our own butcher's shop and would he let me cut with him to learn the trade. He readily agreed as he is a man who loves a mad idea himself, but little did he know I was serious about becoming a butcher myself...
I cut up my first pig here at home in December 2012 with a book and a few Youtube videos to aid me. I was still working for the federal government at the time, so Stuart collected the carcass from the abattoir, wrapped it in a sheet and popped it on the tray of the ute before collecting me at the train station after work to head home and butcher. Nuts, but four hours later, I'd done it, and gee was I pleased with my efforts!
The next few months were part of our endless hunt for a butcher, during which time I kept working on my skills, roping friends into sausage making and tasting my early attempts at bacon making... I note that there were no complaints.
From February onwards, Sal let me cut with him each fortnight when we sent him our pigs, which was incredibly generous considering I slowed him down to about quarter speed. He was a good-humoured taskmaster, teaching me how to cut my bellies straight, where to find the joint on the shoulder, and to waste nothing, as well as how to stop waving my boning knife around in a rather alarming fashion. He makes quality sausages too, which were certainly well received by our earliest Jonai Farms community of eaters!
In April I decided I was ready to cut up my first steer out on the back patio for our own use. Even with the help of Stuart, the orsmkids, my dear friend Bronwyn, and a British book and Australian video, it took three solid days. Thank goodness it was cold outside!
By early May 2013 we were ready to launch our crowdfunding campaign with the online Australian platform Pozible, asking ethical omnivores to support our attempt to take control of the supply chain and give them full confidence in the provenance and further processing of their ethical pork and beer-fed beef. And my word, did they deliver (and some are in fact vegetarians)! We hit our target of $21,450 on day 19 of a 40-day campaign, finishing with $27,570 in total. Along the way we got an extra $2000 boost from the Awesome Foundation and Pozible themselves because they liked our project so much!
Our Pozible success and the audacity of our plans to be on-farm butchers caught the attention of the media, and a few stories started to be published about what we were doing. Around that time Cameron Wilson of the Bush Telegraph on the ABC asked if we'd be willing for them to follow one of our piglets from birth through to the plate as an educational exercise for listeners. We jumped at the chance as it's intrinsic to our business plan that Jonai Farms is a platform to advocate for ethical farming, and this series not only gave the opportunity for radical transparency, it had feedback from listeners built into it in the form of polls on management decisions we make every day. And we coped with the vegan abolitionists' 'feedback' okay over the six months...
On a wet, muddy day in June, just six days after the Pozible campaign ended, the 40-foot refrigerated container (aka a 'reefer') arrived, pulled by yet another game truckie willing to navigate our narrow, slick driveway.
Stuart started cutting the back wall with the old three-phase compressor on it off immediately, as a) it was in disrepair and b) we have single-phase power. As soon as the rain stopped for five minutes, our lovely third-gen farming neighbour Morris popped around with his tractor to pull and push the container into position behind our big shed in barter for a bit of pork. I marvelled at the ingenuity of farmers, the 'can do' attitude that helps them through many a perplexing challenge. I reckon farmers are some of the best problem solvers the world has - everything from the physics of where best to attach a chain to heave a container through a narrow gate, to what to feed their animals in times of drought or flood, to how to fix just about anything with a length of wire and a song.
Then it was our first Salami Day! On a cold central highlands mid-winter day, some 60 people gathered to help us cut up a 110kg pig and transform it into an abundance of salamis, pancetta and prosciuttos - most of them here to claim their Salami Day Pozible reward - a beautiful community of people who care deeply about where their food comes from and how to bring back the old skills of thrift and resourcefulness.
Our next challenge - it turned out that the power in the shed didn't have the capacity to cope with the increased load it was about to cop from setting up a chiller out the back, so the budget stretched out a bit as we had it upgraded from the box at the house. And we didn't mind bogging through the consequent mud trench for the next three months one bit (that may not be true).
I kept practising the arts of curing, making many a pancetta, bacon, and pastrami, as well as digging new garden beds to both beautify the path to the boning room and to create a 'herb hill' on the northern slope where I've now planted all my herbs for sausages, porchettas and the like. It won't be long before we can offer bundles of sage and rosemary in our members' deliveries given how much I've planted...
Meanwhile, Stuart was held up for a couple months by the sodding rain, which flooded the holes he'd dug for the footings before he got all of them cemented in. We kept fencing out in the back paddocks instead to keep up with our ever-growing herd, and as soon as the rain abated, he was back in there to lay the flooring. As reefers come with rails on the floor, Stuart was able to lay the piping for drainage in between the rails, then lay MGO board over the top for a false floor before painting on the red epoxy himself. Have I mentioned just how clever my man is? Yes, truly.
By October things finally really sped up, as Stuart got the internal wall finished to the coolroom with salvaged refrigerated panels and an old coolroom door he picked up on eBay and we got a new compressor installed to run it. Then we scored a secondhand smoker (YES!), and started fitting out the inside with the 200L display fridge, chest freezer, stainless benches, sinks, handwashing station, and trolley and vaccum-pack machine, all sourced secondhand on eBay. He even found an old glass shop door, and then it started to feel real... and finally I got my view too...
Stuart installed a solar hot water system on the roof, and we got everything plumbed in and electricity wired in by our affable & able local sparky Paul, and the place was *nearly* ready to go, but actually still a ways off to finish details like installation of a grease trap and plumbing to the septic, as well as a step and bits of finish work left to do...
Never ones to let reality stand in the way, however, we launched the boning room in October with the help of the lads from A Most Delicious Dinner, who put on a sumptuous feast showcasing our beautiful region's local produce. We had the chance to show many of our kind supporters around the farm, and made merry to the music of our mates The Cider House String Band after many months of hard work. But of course, the work was not actually done...
As Stuart kept building, I took advantage of the new-to-us smoker and experimented with the difference in dry curing or brining bacon, and smoking whole muscle hams with local hardwood chips sourced at the sawmill from where the wood for my butcher's block came. The block is still under construction by another great mate and neighbour Turk, also in barter for a steady supply of pork and beef. (Have I mentioned how much we adore our community? Seriously awesome, talented, kind and helpful people!)
I started honing my single-estate sausage recipes in preparation for taking on full responsibility for all Jonai Farms butchering, and delivered the last Canberra Pozible rewards to our supporters up there, which was a great excuse to hang out with the awesome Zoe. :-)
I was rather chuffed to be named by the lovely Hilary McNevin as a 'must read' in Delicious magazine, and in the Weekly Times as a winner for 2013 (rather oddly alongside Clive Palmer, but hey, madness loves company, right?).
Two weeks ago the Jonai orsmkids stuffed 160 envelopes with our calendars for Pozible supporters as we did final prep on the pathway to the boning room in readiness for our Primesafe inspection.
On Tuesday, 21 February 2014, about a year after we hatched this crazy plan, and seven months after we commenced construction, Primesafe awarded us our licence after a surprisingly pleasant, short and positive inspection, and Jonai Meatsmiths is a go! So thank you again to the wonderful people who have supported us, believed in us, and promoted our efforts in so many visible and invisible ways - we are forever grateful.
We delivered our first pork butchered by your Mistress of Meatsmithery last week, and next month we'll be including our new line of American-style streaky bacon and English-style black ham - cured in brine and Stuart's dark ale. If you haven't heard, we've also set up a new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, whereby you can subscribe for monthly deliveries of uncommonly delicious rare breed ethical pork and beer-fed beef and never be without ethically-raised meat again!
So the moral of this long story - never let anyone tell you you can't do something, and never be afraid to learn something new. Also, it's still true that if you hashtag it it will come.
#Immabeafarmer #Immafarmer #Immabeabutcher #Immabutcher
Now it's time for me to try out #ImmabeaDr... wish me luck. ;-)
x Tammi & the Jonai