Laura Dalrymple from sustainable meat provedore Feather and Bone pays a visit to the Sydney farm they source pork from and has a confronting moment.
We were celebrating Her Majesty’s birthday by taking the country air at Fairview Farm near Camden when we experienced a moment of deep existential angst at around 3.30pm.
This was our second visit to the home of the pure-bred Saulsbury Berkshire pigs we have been buying and we wanted to show our team where they were raised.
Fairview Farm is one of a dwindling number of small Sydney Basin farms that hasn’t succumbed to the lure of the developer’s dollar. As demand for land within commuter range of Sydney rises, so does the value of that land and the temptation for farmers to sell all or part of their holdings has proved irresistible to many.
The catch, however, is that it’s precisely these picturesque farms that provide the idyllic rural vistas that developers and real estate agents spruik to potential buyers. As the farms disappear so too do the views and the bucolic charm that is a central component of the appeal of rural housing estates.
For the holdouts like the Boardmans of Fairview Farm who are determined to continue farming on their land and protect the ‘lungs of Sydney’, the problem isn’t just that their views are also being compromised by the growing number of housing estates dotted on the surrounding hillsides.
The risk is that local governments will succumb to pressure from the new residents to rezone the area from agricultural to semi-residential, which would impose significant restrictions on farming activity. After all, while many want to live in the midst of idyllic rural vistas, they also often find that an intimate relationship with the sounds and smells of the idyllic rural chooks, pigs and cows that go with the territory less appealing.
The Boardmans have been living at Fairview since the 1880s when Reuben Boardman first moved onto the land and the property and buildings are steeped in classic early Sydney history. Today there are four generations of Boardmans living on the farm including the irrepressible Vic Boardman who is 93 years old and still driving, through to the equally irrepressible Reuben Dennett who is three and would drive if you gave him half a chance.
Over the last couple of decades the property wasn’t farmed and fell into disrepair but the family has now embarked on an inspiring project to restore the farm to it’s previous glory as a thriving, award-winning mixed farm run on sustainable farming principles.
Lisa Dennett, Vic’s granddaughter, tracked down the Mudgee family who had purchased Reuben Boardman’s award-winning Langshan chickens back in the 1930s and found the direct descendants of the original Langshans. She returned triumphantly to Fairview with the birds and she’s now breeding Reuben Boardman’s Langshan chickens again. The family also decided to revive the Berkshire pig herd that had originally been part of Fairview’s livestock and they managed to source pigs bred directly from the original Fairview Berkshires to set up the new herd.
The pigs and chooks and kids are raised on the same chemical-free pastures on which their ancestors grazed, scratched and played and it was very moving and exciting to see the place coming back to life and hear the family’s plans for the farm.
After we’d toured the farm, enjoyed a hearty and delicious lunch and been entertained with stories from the extensive Boardman family repertoire (interrupted occasionally by a pack of black baby pigs hurtling past at full speed and Vic Boardman’s motoring antics) we went to visit four special porkers in a paddock alongside the others.
And that’s when we had the moment.
You see, these four bright-eyed pigs, the same ones who unwittingly approached us full of curiosity and confidence, whose backs we were patting, who were pushing playfully against our legs and who were (seriously) trying to eat our boots were about to become our dinner.
The next day, they would willingly file into the race, trot onto the truck and be driven half an hour down the road to Wollondilly Abattoir where they would be slaughtered, bled, eviscerated, chilled and then delivered to Feather and Bone in Marrickville on Thursday morning.
Of course, our precious little urbanite crisis about the paradox of caring so much about the way an animal lives only to kill it for our dinner no doubt seems a bit wet to farmers who have to face this fact every day. And we’re not pretending that we gave those four pigs a reprieve. It’s just that it was a poignant and challenging moment when we looked those lovely, healthy, contented pigs in the eyes and accepted the fact that we are partly responsible for their death.
There’s no getting around the fact that this is the unpleasant side of what we do for a living and we may have lost some of you by telling this story. For us, the only way we can look the animal in the eye is by ensuring that we do whatever we can to support a livestock farming system that prioritises land and animal welfare and recognises that they are inextricable.
As for you, we recommend you do your best to find out where your meat came from and how it was raised. Don’t take marketing claims at face value and ask questions all the time – the people selling you your food should be able to answer them.
You need to know what and who you are supporting when you spend your hard-earned money.