There’s a power play going on every day on farms all around the country. What should we, as growers, do, and what will you, as consumers expect us to do, and be willing to pay for? It’s these two questions that will decide what crops are planted, what animals are reared, what sprays are used, and what farming techniques are implemented.
The longer we farm, the more we think there’s no definitive right or wrong.
For us, we look at the land around us less as under our command as in our care. We’re owners, in the legal sense, but more than that, we’re caretakers for the speck of time (in a historical sense) that we’ll be on this piece of Tasmania. And our aim, in simple terms, is to try to leave the land better when we’re gone than when we came. But simple said is not simply done. Farming, historically, has been a losing game. The breadbaskets of Biblical times are now often deserts. We see, every time it rains, the colour of the water in the creek, and wonder just how much topsoil the water is carrying away. And in that topsoil are nutrients. On Fat Pig Farm, the aim is to try to minimise nutrient loss and to try and regenerate the land. We’re a small mixed farm, with an incredible variety of plants and animals, and hence large inefficiencies. But what we want to do is at least try to grow the topsoil, to store as much carbon, and to encourage the invisible ecosystem (the fungi, microbes and nematodes that live underground) as much as possible.
So native wildlife has access to a lot of our farm. The creek is pretty much all fenced off to our domesticated animals and left to the wallabies, bandicoots, potoroos, antechinuses, and possums that roam through. We have a large swathe of bush, too, where we know the endangered Tasmanian devil lives, along with numerous quolls, and we often spy a pair of wedge tailed eagles up there as well.
We, however, are blessed as growers. We aren’t beholden to the lowest common denominator of farmgate prices. We don’t have to use sprays on our food; sprays so dubious that it won’t end up on our table (and I’ve met farmers who do spray their crops with chemicals that ensure they don’t’ eat their own produce). We grow food we want to eat, rather than growing food that we want to sell, which – you may be surprised to learn – are two separate things.
To manage the land, our cattle have access to about 1 per cent of the property at a time, for most of the year. They are rotated across the paddocks, and up the valley, to allow the grass to grow back, and to mimic their original grazing patterns (always forwards, rarely back). We allow our pigs to graze, to forage, to dig, which in turn can damage the soil, but favours the right of the animal to live a more instinctual life. We try to create compost on site, plant trees and rotate things through the property to balance the wants of the animals, and the needs of the soil. We attempt to manage our particular type of geology, and micro-climate, with an eye on flavour and on sustainability.
The most suffering on our farm happens in the wild places, where animals live and die, according to nature’s rules. But to minimise the suffering for our domesticated animals, we have to face up to the fact that a gun is part and parcel of farming life. Too often we have needed the services of those who do have a gun, only for them to suggest we take responsibility for it ourselves. I don’t take the ownership of a gun lightly. I never, ever, imagined I’d own one when I first moved to the country. I used to wonder about the bloodlust that drives people to want to kill things. But then I moved to the bush and saw that things live and die all the time, and sometimes we are involved in that process, and often we’re not. Owning a gun, and perhaps eating meat from a wallaby that has grazed on our grass, does not make us evil. Killing animals and wasting the meat seems a more culpable attitude. And let’s put things in perspective, while we’ve fenced wallabies out of about half of our pasture, more of the marsupials die on our road than we would kill in a year. Way more. I don’t expect to convince those who eat no meat or think of all gun owners as uncivilised rednecks, but I do think you can be a thinking carnivore and see the value in owning a gun in a rural setting.
Vegans who eat peas must know that often an animal has died so they can eat vegetables.
I know a farm that produces cattle and a lot of green peas and kills up to 100 deer a year. They also shoot countless birds, plus thousands of wallabies and possums. Most of that is to protect the peas. Vegans who eat peas must know that often an animal has died so they can eat vegetables. The good news is that the farm in question only uses hunters who use the animals for meat, not those who only shoot the animals and leave them to rot.
We don’t take death lightly. We inevitably find the killing of one of our animals as a grim task, that isn’t pretty in any sense. But we also see the value in using as much of what the earth provides and not wasting it.
I know an apple grower who shoots over 100 possums a year to protect their crop. I’ve seen the rat traps that an organic grain grower uses to kill rodents. I’ve spoken to the shooter who has been asked to kill ducks that eat spray-free strawberries. There’s barely a crop out there that is grown without some impact on other living things. Using those animals that do die is at least a more responsible way to use precious, and finite, resources.
We don’t take death lightly. We inevitably find the killing of one of our animals as a grim task, that isn’t pretty in any sense. But we also see the value in using as much of what the earth provides and not wasting it. That’s why we think it’s okay to eat at least some of the 1 million plus native marsupials that are killed for crop protection each year in Tasmania. That’s why we wanted to honour the life of our cow, Irma, by using her hide to make leather. That’s why we try to use tongue and cheek and offal where we can. Meat is an indulgence, it does cost the earth something. Animals do die, at our hand, and at the hand of mother nature, and it’s insulting the earth, to the farmers, to the animals that have lived and died, if we don’t try to utilise what we can from their death.
There will be people who disagree. People who think you can grow food without harming another living thing, or impact on the natural world. And that’s fine. I’d like to see their farming systems; systems that don’t use bees, that don’t kill slugs, that manage rodents, and birds and possums and the like while doing no harm. I would admire them for what they do. It’s just that for all the regenerative, inspirational, imaginative farmers I have met, I’ve yet to meet the ones who manage to grow food commercially with no impact on other animals.
The longer we farm, the more we think there’s no definitive right or wrong. Everybody has to decide where they feel comfortable on the spectrum of what is acceptable to eat, whether you grow things, or have thing grown on your behalf. One thing I’m pretty sure of, though, is that the more conscious you can be, of the farmer, of the environment, and the animals that are affected in the process, the better the world will be.