So you’ve been buying your organic meats from your local ‘farmers’ market’ for some time now; and you speak fondly of your interaction with the primary producers you uncover. If you’re like me, you’d probably only go to the corporate giants Coles and Woolworths for non-food items in an emergency. Are you ready to take the next step?
Nearly three thousand people have already signed up on Facebook as participants for a month-long national boycott of the big two starting on the 1st December, 2009. After a visit from Tim Woods of Wellington Farm Lamb, I am even more determined to join them.
Sustainability is more than just a buzz word on his 1200 acre farm in Wellington, Central Western NSW. It has to be, because his farm has been in drought since 2002. To do right by his flock he has reduced their numbers, introduced a native, drought tolerant saltbush which the sheep enjoy, and eliminated the middle man by selling their meat directly to people like me.
Grazing fewer animals means Tim can have ninety days between sheep being on the same paddock, so he no longer needs to drench the sheep for worms – this is enhanced by them grazing upwards onto shrubs. He’s not using antibiotics because his sheep are pasture-raised. Since he stopped spraying for weeds five years ago, he found his animals eat them in moderation to balance their own guts.
My freezer overflows with half a lamb that he drove into town personally on his delivery rounds. All I can say is that in my experience, the saltbush-enhanced flavour of his lamb is unmatched by other Australian lamb producers. I can also tell you that one of the reasons Tim changed his farming methods was informed by the way that the big two change farming practice (for the worse) by dictating uniformity, right down to how thick the fat must be on a leg of lamb. The best way to produce what the corporate giants want is in a feed lot. Up the road from Tim’s farm that’s just what he’s seen. No grass, just dirt, and when it rains, those sheep stand in mud. That is not how Tim wants to farm.
Tim can offer something that the big two cannot – firstly there are the photos of his fat, (there’s been a bit of rain, he tells me) happy sheep gambolling contentedly on grass. He will also bring you half a lamb that was on pasture seven days ago, hung whole for five days, cut to your specifications by a country butcher, and vacuum packed for freshness. For your $150 you eat 7-9 kilos of lamb, plus a bonus kilo of sausages and a kilo of the leanest premium lamb mince I’ve tried. You also get the knowledge that your money is spent furthering sustainable farming practices – making happy sheep. They really do taste better.
If you don’t have time to broker your own relationships with sustainable, ethical farmers like Tim Wood, there is another option. Feather and Bone is a wonderful boutique business run by a dedicated couple, Grant and Laura Hilliard. They deliver provenance guaranteed meat, eggs and assorted other items to your door. They only buy whole carcasses, often from rare breed farms located within NSW. Not only do they reduce food miles, they also slow the worrying decrease in genetic diversity that results from large-scale commercial farming. I use them myself – just not for lamb.
Finally, if happy sheep alone aren’t enough to sway you, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon explains that when you spend dollars at Woolworths you are also supporting Australia’s biggest poker machine operator with somewhere in the vicinity of eleven thousand machines. In his words, “something is very rotten with the fresh food people.”