Butchering a steer (Our meat is real, part 3)

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‘What’s this bit then?’ asked Bron. ‘Err, brisket? No, blade!’ I hazard to guess after scrutinising the MLA cut poster for the 107th time. This was on Saturday. By Monday, I was naming unidentified cuts ‘pirate fillet’. So. Much. Beef.

As you’ll recall, this year we’re only eating our own meat here on the farm, and so a couple weeks ago we butchered our first steer with only a poster, an English butchery book and an Australian video as our guides. Oh, and youtube, when the internet was fast enough. NBN anyone?

My butcher told me I was crazy, and I told him to be more optimistic. Turns out we were both right, I’m crazy, but optimism pays off. So do knife skills, perseverance, and a strong back.

The steer was hung for a week at the abattoir before Stuart brought it home in quarters. Our cattle are Lowlines, a breed stemmed from Angus, but short in stature with a high feed conversion ratio, so we got a 209kg carcass back. This sounds a lot (and trust me, it’s a lot to cut up), but compared with many other breeds, it’s pretty small. I hadn’t considered how grateful I would be for that smallness when it came time to butcher it! It still took us three nine-hour days…

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So following on from my growing experience of butchering pigs, I had an armoury of sharp knives at the ready, and a few buckets and bins for all the trim that would become mince or soap (seriously, we planned to make soap with the tallow we would render from the fat… sadly, we failed to do this. It’s on the list for next time though…), and for the glorious bones (I may have shouted ‘phở!’ when I boned out the first leg…). I didn’t think through the irritation of using a book from the UK and an Australian video, so that when I followed one initially, the subsequent cuts wouldn’t match the first ones… ‘live and learn’ was a bit of a mantra…

It wasn’t just me – I had Stuart, my dear friend Bronwyn, and 13-year-old amazing son Oscar to help on Saturday. Sunday was just me and Oscar while Stuart did pork deliveries and dropped Bron back at home.

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Monday was just me in the morning, with Stuart re-joining after farm chores for the final stretch that afternoon. I just want you to know these details so if anyone else reads this thinking a very inexperienced smallholder can just ‘cut up a cow in a day’ you’ll know you really really need more people, not to mention more skills! It’s a Very Big Job to cut up a cow*. (*Never say ‘cut up a cow’ to a farmer, who will make you feel a right idgit for appearing not to know the difference between a cow and a steer.)

So we started with a forequarter. No matter which way I looked at it, it a) wasn’t a pig, and b) didn’t look like any of my butchery instruction pictures.

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Sure, I made the first cut okay, but then it was all just ‘soooooo, I’ll just follow *that* muscle…’ Seriously, though, when Stuart cut the first osso buco, I was totally sold.

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If some brisket was mislabelled as chuck, or blade as brisket, I can live with that – we know it’s all muscle meat and will cook it accordingly. As the first cuts slid into the cryovac bags, the satisfaction of the 2013 Our Meat Is Real project hit full force. Not just pigs anymore, we’re now self sufficient in beef and pork, and soon we’ll be adding lamb to our repertoire – amazing!

As we moved along the first half of the beast, things got more exciting, if only because who can’t identify a rib eye when they see one?! And just as it is with the pigs, it’s very useful to learn just how little of this prime cut you get from one steer, and why it’s therefore so prized. I’ll be cooking these with reverent joy in the months to come – and I reckon each one can feed about four people!

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The flank was also easy to identify, but if you think this section of the carcass went more quickly, you might be wrong as sawing through beef bones (phở!’) is really hard work.

The first hindquarter was also rather daunting – it’s a lot bigger than a ham!

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And then there’s the matter of ‘top side’ or ‘top round’ and ‘bottom round’, as distinct from the rump, and which bit is silverside again? So, yeah, we have some lovely roasts that may not know their top from their bottom, but will surely all taste delicious. We brined three pieces – two for corned beef (we ate the first one last night, actually, and it was sensational cooked up in a pot with kohlrabi & celeriac, onion, garlic, peppercorns and cloves), and one that I’ll be smoking this week for pastrami, along with a streaky bacon… the joys of home butchery and curing! And then there was the second osso buco! Yessssssss…

We finished up around 6pm, washed our hands and faces, and dashed off to our mate Cait’s 40th with a bunch of freshly butchered ribs and the first tenderloin, which we barbecued very simply with salt, pepper and olive oil. It was fun to regale everyone with our amateur efforts, and the beef was as well received as the few pork chops we also brought along in a marinade of plum sauce, soy, and star anise.

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Day 2 dawned. Half a beast remained. Stuart and Bronwyn left Oscar and me with encouraging words…

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One thing I won’t do again, I think, is start at the middle on the second half. My brain is perhaps too linear, but I should have repeated the pattern I did the first time and started at the forequarter. As I was still trying to work all the cuts out, jumping around led to extra unnecessary confusion in an already confusing job!

Straight to the ribs we went, though, cutting out a scotch fillet roast this time instead of individual rib eye steaks. I left it intentionally big in anticipation of a lovely winter feast with a large group of friends… who don’t seem in short supply when they hear there’s Jonai meat on the menu!

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While it was much slower going with only two of us to cut, Oscar was a marvel of knife skills, and served diligently as Chief Trimmer all day. He can trim the silverskin off a cut with less waste than any of the rest of us, I’m proud to report.

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On this side, rather than pulling out the tenderloin (or eye fillet as we usually call it here in Oz), I cut out porterhouse and t-bone steaks – and without a bandsaw, I left them reaaaaallly thick – dinosaur steaks! Each one should easily feed our family, though I suspect there may be some competition for the tender eye…

The porterhouse end...
The porterhouse end…
The t-bone end...
The t-bone end…
Dinosaur steaks!
Dinosaur steaks!

This is also where I realised a mistake I was making all along – I trimmed off too much fat. 🙁 There are different sorts of fat on cattle, and without an experienced butcher to guide me, I sort of just fell into a habit of trimming most of it off, much to my later dismay when I sat back and thought about it. We love fat – fat is flavour! Nick Huggins was quick to point out the error of my ways on Facebook, and I’ll certainly do that differently next time.

When Stuart got back from doing deliveries all day in Melbourne, he found Oscar and I a mere halfway through the second side of beef, and pretty knackered at that… a very quick dinner of garlic and cashew stir fried Jonai beef served with sweet & sour vegies was our reward before an early night to bed…

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Day 3. For those still with me here, yes, I said ‘Day 3’. I woke to tight shoulders, a sore neck, and growing forearms, feeling pretty pleased with myself. Stuart of course thought this was an opportune time to juice 150kg of windfall apples with our lovely WWOOFer for the week, Arata, and the kids. Oh, how he loves to test me…

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For those wondering where we kept the carcass these three days, it was hanging in the shed. Temperatures were cool, but by the third day we were very conscious that this meat needed to get colder again! The pressure was on…

The two littlest Jonai made it home from a few days with their grandparents and cousins down the coast the night before, so were now ready to help with the home stretch. Atticus quickly discovered just how hard it is to saw through a leg bone…

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As we were cutting the final forequarter around 5pm on Monday night, I carved out a brisket roast, browned it off in my cast iron, chucked in an onion, some lovely Angelica organic garlic and rosemary plucked from the garden, and poured a bottle of Stuart’s homebrew dark IPA over it, then popped it in a low oven for three hours.

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Stuart sawed the fourth and final osso buco (have you noticed I quite like osso buco?), we washed everything down, and sank wearily but happily into our seats to feast on the most delicious roast I think I’ve ever eaten. Cutting up a whole beast has that effect on flavour, I reckon. 😉

I do look forward to the next steer, though it will be nearly a year before we need another one for our own consumption, we think. I also look forward to doing it with a coolroom at my disposal, and a fully fitted out boning room, including a bandsaw!

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If you’d like to support our efforts to become skilful, local butchers of our own meat, in a facility we’ll also make available to other smallholders like ourselves, check out our Pozible project to crowdfund a boning room here on the farm!

Lovin’ the laksa

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You’ll recall that this is the year our meat is real – where we only eat meat from animals we’ve grown ourselves here on the farm. As the first quarter of the year is nearly past, I figured this was a great time to share a vegetarian recipe, as for the first six weeks of eating our own meat, we didn’t have any!

It was an interesting experience having six weeks as predominantly vego, but not entirely, as we had homemade chicken stock from our own chooks still in the freezer, plus some chops and our pancetta from the first pig. So while our meals were overwhelmingly plant-based, there were delicious little morsels of ethically-raised meat added to some of them. I had to keep catching my former vegetarian brain from admonishing me against the bit of pancetta or the chicken stock, remembering that I wasn’t seeking to be a vegetarian, just to rely on our own meat!

A quick look at our meals in the first month shows that we enjoyed the following list of fantastic plant-based meals: fettucine with pancetta & mushies, cheese souffle & garden-plucked artichokes, veg Hokkien mee, veg penang curry, banh mi op la, stuffed parathas, 2-cheese ravioli (made by 11yo Antigone), rice paper rolls, gado gado, pasta puttanesca… and that was just the dinners! Our brekkies, as usual, included a wide range of egg-based dishes, including: Beijing-style egg & tomato, spicy Indian omelet, eggs en cocotte, Chinese fried eggs with oyster sauce, spring onions and chili… and a bit of Bircher muesli for good measure.

It’s telling that most of our vegetarian meals tend to be from the sub-continent or southeast Asia, given their much longer history of primary reliance on a diverse range of fresh vegetables. So here’s one of our family favourites, the luscious laksa lemak, which the delightful @bronya_l has patiently waited for me to post. 🙂

Laksa Lemak

Oh, laksa, how I love thee. The diverse, spicy flavours in a coconut-rich stock that squeezes so delightfully from each mouthful of tofu puffs, punctuated with the crunch of fresh bean sprouts and the aromatic appeal of Vietnamese mint… this is warming, delightful comfort food. There are many varieties of laksa – our favourite is probably closest to what would be called a vegetarian laksa lemak, though as we use chicken stock, it’s not in fact vegetarian…

The only real work in making laksa is the paste, but a decent food processor can make this a pretty quick task as well. My own food processor is not really that decent and leaves the harder ingredients such as galangal and lemongrass a bit gritty in the paste, so I’ve always preferred my mortar & pestle.

Because this is such a favourite in our house, sometimes the craving won’t be denied though the larder is lacking. I’ve found that adding dried turmeric for fresh, though not as pungent and magical as the lurid orange rhizome, is definitely sufficient for the job. A lack of galangal is a problem, in my opinion, as its aromatic qualities are not easily replicated with anything else. And although many traditional laksas call for rice noodles, we love the fat toothiness of hokkien noodles. But be bold and you’ll be eating laksa of many creative varieties in no time!

Paste

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 med onion, chopped

2 tspn belacan (shrimp paste)

1T galangal, finely chopped

1 tspn fresh turmeric, chopped

2T candlenuts (hazelnuts or macadamias work in a pinch)

3 coriander roots, chopped

1 kaffir lime, zest only

2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped

1-2 chilies, depending on their heat & your tolerance

1-2T peanut oil

(NB this will make a small jar of paste, which will keep in the fridge for a few weeks. )

Soup

1.5 L homemade stock

400 ml coconut milk

Dark soy sauce to taste

2 limes, juice

Bok choy or silverbeet

Fried tofu puffs, chopped in half

Bean sprouts

rau răm (aka Vietnamese mint or laksa leaf)

Crispy shallots

Hokkien noodles

Method

It’s simplest to make the paste in a food processor, but when you have a bit of time or need to work through some aggro, a mortar & pestle is definitely your friend. It also makes a smoother paste, in my experience, with the flavours pushed together better.

Once the paste is made, heat a drizzle of peanut oil on a medium flame in a large pot and pop 3-4 T of the laksa paste into the pot. When it colours and before it burns, pour the coconut milk in and stir frequently. Once it’s hot, add your stock (we use homemade chicken stock, but of course a flavoursome homemade vegie stock is an excellent option as well) and heat through.

Add lime juice and soy and taste – adjust to your palate. Add your leafy greens and the tofu puffs and heat through.

I pre-heat the hokkien noodles in a bowl of hot water, then drain them and add them into the soup at the last minute. Alternatively, after warming in a bowl you can put them straight into the bowls and pour the soup over the top.

Garnish each bowl with bean sprouts, Vietnamese mint, and crispy shallots. A small bowl of chopped chilies for the strong-tongued is a nice addition to the table, and of course some sambal oelek should be offered.

The only real trick to laksa is how to eat it without splattering your chest, something I cannot profess to have mastered reliably. Enjoy!

Locavore bacon & eggs, biscuits & gravy

 
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A decadent staple brekky in our global repertoire of extravagance is bacon & eggs, biscuits & gravy. My Dad is from Alabama, and taught my Mama (from Oregon) to make this when they were first together, then pretty much never cooked anything ever again, except a mean barbecue.

In Australia, when I say ‘biscuits & gravy’, people say ‘what in the world are you talking about?’ And having had two requests for my biscuit recipe this week alone, I figured it’s time to share, especially since we’ve recently been enjoying ours with the first Jonai Farms ethical bacon, which ups the nom factor considerably. We much prefer ethical diets over calorie-counting ones around here…

American-style biscuits are roughly what Australians would call scones – usually more like drop scones. Today I made our biscuits with the divine buttermilk from the Butter Factory in Myrtleford. I resisted buttering the biscuits with some of Naomi’s truffle butter as well, figuring the gravy was enough. Normally, though, I use the yoghurt we make weekly with milk from the dairy on the other side of our volcano. And as we now buy our flour from Powlett Hill about 30km from us, this is serious locavore food. 😀

For those looking for your nearest free-range pig farmer, I compiled an Australia-wide list a few years ago. Flavour Crusader also has a list that may be more up to date than mine!


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Biscuits

All measurements are approximate, depending on the weather, your mood, and your desired moistness and yoghurty goodness…

2C flour

1tspn baking soda

2T butter

1C  yoghurt (or buttermilk, in which case you’ll reduce the milk quantity)

1/2C milk

Pinch salt

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Either oil a baking tray or line it with baking paper.

Mix the baking soda and salt into the flour. Cut butter into the flour. Add yoghurt (or buttermilk) and mix with a rubber spatula, then add milk to the right consistency. Think ‘drop scone’ dough…

Spoon out the amount of dough for the size biscuit you prefer – in our house, that’s usually about the size of my palm or a little smaller. Make sure they’re relatively equal in size so they cook evenly.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven. I usually turn them around mid-way through cooking as my oven is hotter at the back than the front.

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Gravy

The best gravy is made from bacon grease (otherwise it’s really just bechamel!). In the American South, there’s a huge variety of gravies, from a straight millk gravy through to one introduced to me by the gorgeous Gabriel in Oxford, Mississippi – red gravy –  which is made with tomatoes. The core ingredient seems to pretty much always be bacon grease. The simplest though, and the one we make the most often, is the one Dad taught Mama to make when they were first married.

Bacon grease – however much you end up with after making bacon for brekky (or about 1T if you’ve saved it in a jar, which is also Doing It Right)

2T flour

2C milk (pre-warmed in the microwave)

Salt & pepper to taste

While the bacon grease is still hot in the pan from makin’ bacon, add flour and stir until it browns lightly. Add warmed milk and stir continuously with a whisk until it thickens. Season to taste. Serve in a jug or bowl with ladle – your choice.

In our house, some of us like to break up our biscuits and pour the gravy over the top. Others pour the gravy on whole biscuits, and some of us even break up our bacon and sprinkle it through the biscuits and gravy. Personal preference rules! We almost never have biscuits and gravy if we aren’t having bacon and eggs – these things are made to be eaten together!

2013: Our Meat is Real

In 2010 it was sourdough. This year it’s meat.

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My journey into the world of breadmaking resulted in a life of no bought bread, and I anticipate this year’s meat venture will do the same. In short, if we haven’t raised or caught the meat ourselves, we won’t be eating it at home.

As those who’ve been here before already know, I was a vegetarian for seven years and now I am a free-range rare breed pig farmer along with my hypercompetent husband Stuart and three orsmkids. I was not a vegetarian because I thought humans shouldn’t eat non-human animals. It was because I couldn’t bear to be complicit in the realities of industrial meat farming – ‘Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations’ or CAFOs, where animals are never given the opportunity to dig, scratch, munch on grass and otherwise express what Joel Salatin calls ‘the pigness of the pig’. I don’t want to make animals suffer throughout their lives so that they can end up on our plates, and nor do I want to participate in the environmental degradation caused by intensive systems. So when I came back to meat, I stuck with ethically raised, until ultimately we decided to take our ethics and our advocacy to the next level by becoming producers ourselves.

So as smallholders, we are in the luxurious position of being able to raise our own animals as part of a healthy agroecological system, whereby some of them are for sale for the economic viability that allows us to live here, and some are for our own consumption. The pigs are our tractors, efficiently turning the soil in preparation for the next season’s fodder crop (and for our expansive vegie garden), the sheep and cattle manage the grass growth and keep our paddocks healthy and safer from fires, and the chooks convert our kitchen scraps into a plentiful supply of eggs (and we eat the excess roosters).

On our 69 acres, we’ll ultimately have about 10 rare breed Large Black sows, two boars and an ever-fluctuating number of weaners and growers, and then we also currently have a dozen Lowline Angus cattle and seven Lincoln sheep. The very awesome Ellie also just brought us about 100 rainbow trout fingerlings that we’ve put in the Home Dam and are hoping won’t be eaten by cormorants… and then there’s the ever-expanding flock of heritage and common chooks.

We will, of course, be slaughtering pigs regularly as that’s our primary farming business, so I think there will be a ready supply of pork, both fresh and cured. However, we tend to serve lovely pork roasts only for gatherings here on the farm, and we eat mostly cured pork in small doses as a flavouring for otherwise vegetable-based meals, plus the occasional sausage. In short, just because we’re pig farmers doesn’t mean we’ll be binging all year on pork.

Our aim is to slaughter about one cow per month and sell the meat locally, which will also mean we’ll have access to beef when we want it, but I’m going to record our consumption and we’re aiming to basically eat one cow this year.

With the sheep, we have one ram and four ewes, all of whom had their first lambs last winter. One had twins who died of exposure the first night and another was killed by either a fox or more likely, our dog Maya, who sadly had to be put down as she was a menace to small animals. 🙁 That left us with just two lambs, a ewe and a ram (which Stuart castrated so is now a wether). As our original ram is not the father of the ewe lamb, we’re keeping her so we’ll have one more breeder, leaving us with just the wether to eat. And so what might have been as many as five lambs to eat this year was reduced to one, and that is what we’ll eat.

It’s these vagaries of supply that we lose touch with when our only connection to the meat we eat is through the butcher or the supermarket. Have you ever thought about how many lambs it took for your annual consumption of cutlets? Chicken thighs? Pork belly? And who eats all the parts you don’t like or know how to cook? I’ll be in a much more knowledgeable position as the year progresses to tell you what a smallholder can produce for home consumption in a year, and also which cuts become the real treasures when they’re only enjoyed once or twice in the entire year.

Roast chicken used to be an annual event, not a weekly one. And there’s a good reason for it – it’s bad maths (in both global and domestic economies) to eat too many chickens, and good maths to eat lots of eggs instead. We won’t be killing the goose, we’ll be collecting the golden eggs. Only surplus roosters that grow from eggs hatched by the broody bantams will be eaten here on the farm, which means very little chicken in our diet. And when you think about how many lives we take for consumption, one cow goes a hell of a lot further than a chook.

An exciting aspect of this adventure is that I’ll be butchering whole carcasses myself with Stuart’s help. I figure I need to so that I understand the cuts better before sending subsequent carcasses to the butcher with my cut sheet so we can have confidence in what we sell. I butchered our first pig last month and it was fascinating and extremely useful to understand more deeply how many pigs it takes to sustain a household of omnivores. Next up is a cow, which I’ve been sternly warned to have quartered at the abattoir to make it possible to handle!

In short, I’m hoping that through our year of what we propose will be a sustainable amount of meat eating in an ethical, smallholder system, we’ll be able to demonstrate how much meat (and the diversity of cuts and animals) is sustainable for the planet and its many inhabitants. We expect to continue our habit of roughly 50% vegetarian dinners, and of course small portions of meat at omnivorous mealtimes. In fact we’re starting the year with nothing but a slab of our bacon in the fridge as we wait for the next slaughter, so are looking at a purely vegetarian couple of weeks, which is fine with us, and a great season for divine salads full of nuts and berries!

But you don’t have to live on the land to eat like you do. Hopefully this will be a model for city dwellers and country folk alike, because we’re all living on the same planet. Here’s to a tasty 2013!

I’m a Farmer (so is my husband)

‘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.’

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

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

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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.

Welcome to Jonai Farms!

As regular readers are well aware, now we are farmers. And so Jonai Farms must have its own website, of course, where I’ve decided to blog our adventures in farming.

It will be interesting learning which blog is for which post, and occasionally I will simply cross post. So for those interested in all things farming and the rural life, check out The Hedonist Life over at Jonai Farms. 🙂

Going Up the Country, Farmers We Will Be!

Less than three months ago, I wrote about our Notice to Vacate and how it galvanised us to action. Farmers we would be. Well guess what, dear readers? We found a farm!

View to the east overlooking the house

It’s a beautiful 69 acres just west of Daylesford with an ordinary little 3-bedroom house on it. We’re putting all our worldly goods into a 40-foot high top shipping container, storing it on the property, and buggering off on RoadTripUSA ’til the end of August. Upon our return, we will convert the container into a parents’ retreat, with bedroom, study and our own bathroom for the first time since kids! Within a couple years we’d like to build a bigger Dream House.

ALL OF THIS IS SO EXCITING I’VE BEEN SHOUTING WITH DELIGHT ALL DAY ON THE TWITTERZ. 😀

We hope to get our first pigs soon after our return, and the first Pig Day (a la the wonderful de Bortolis) will be next winter. Don’t worry, you’ll hear about it. Other ideas include small herds of heritage cattle and sheep, plenty of chickens (we can have roosters finally!), ducks, turkeys… we’re investigating possible crops for small-scale commercial production such as garlic and horseradish as well. And of course we can’t wait to set up a serious permaculture system for our own delicious household growing.

For those wondering, have these months been stressful? UNEQUIVOCALLY YES. Not only has our future accommodation been uncertain since February, we’ve been trying to pull RoadTripUSA together in the midst of that uncertainty. I’m sure it’s just pure bloody-mindedness paired with eternal optimism that got us to where we are…

And let’s add to that list ongoing PhD work (and missed deadlines), a journal article in need of revision after the referees’ reports, CAPA work far more than two days a week (which is what I signed up for and fishbowl-optimist believed would happen) which has seen me interstate a number of times, the normal work involved in keeping a family of five on track plus Stuart’s regular demands of running and further developing Solarvox while still consulting for his old company two days a week… do you want me to stop now? I do. Stop.

In just over two weeks, we will fly away. That original starry-eyed plan where we buy a farm and settle when we get back, so we get to travel for three months rent and mortgage free has amazingly come true. It feels like we’ve done it by the skin of our teeth, but by golly we did it! Farmers we will be! 🙂

Notice to Vacate: We Really Are Going to be Farmers

With eyes still itching from the sobbing episode evoked by today’s delivery of a Notice to Vacate by mid-April, I’m ready to write about why this unjust event is a Very Good Thing. Dad always taught us to make lemonade with lemons, so here’s the recipe.

First, a note on being evicted. This is our second experience, and it felt just as violating, rug-ripped-out-from-undering, slap-in-the-face awful as the first time. With three children in the local school, in a small neighbourhood without much of a rental market from which to choose, and with rents rising astronomically, being kicked out of your lovely home is devastating to say the least. Last time we got lucky and slid into a lease our friends were vacating voluntarily as they had just bought a property a few suburbs further out. This time we’re even luckier, as we’ve been looking for a farm near Daylesford for the past two years.

Two years, you say? Well, in truth, we’ve had our eyes on Daylesford since 1995, when we first visited, and left a comment in the Convent Gallery’s guestbook that said something like, ‘Love love love it here! We’ll be back, next time to live!’ We’ve been back countless times for weekends, to feast, to wander the bookshops, to tour David Holmgren’s permaculture property, and for events like the one where Joel Salatin spoke at the Lakehouse and convinced us to be farmers, not just self-sufficient drop outs. But we still haven’t bought a farm.

So here’s the exciting bit. We have three months (we’ve asked for one extra from the landlord) to find the right farm and have our offer accepted. As we’d like to do Road Trip USA with the kids from late May until the start of September, there’s a bit of flexibility in the plan (we can put all our stuff in shipping containers and store them while we’re away). (If we time this right, by the way, we manage to travel in America rent AND mortgage free!)

As we would like to run free-range pigs (originally for personal consumption, and then scale up to small-scale commercial production if we’re good enough at it) as well as have a permaculture garden and be as self sufficient as we can, we reckon we need a minimum of 20 acres, at least half of which is paddock. More acreage would be very welcome. I need a view from my kitchen window (this isn’t really negotiable). And we’ll need to be close enough to town for the kids to get the school bus.

So if you’re in that region, or know someone who is, let us know if there are any good properties around for some keenly committed ethical food folk like us. Everyone else, your good vibes will be enough! It’s time the Jonai put some money where our mouths are and truly become farmers at last.

May we please have views like this?