TFWF#40: What do you call a Farmer’s Market without Farmers?

As many of you will know I have always tried, and enjoyed, being very transparent about the farm and the business. The whole reason for writing the blog was to let my readers follow me on my journey and experience the highs and lows of a start-up business, choosing a niche market and using social media to help modernise the ageing New Zealand Farming community.

We have always had a singular mission to produce high quality pork and to raise happy pigs in an ethical way. Our pigs require more time and care to raise than those in intensive farming practices, such as free farming and those with sow stalls. We raise fewer pigs at a slower rate than intensive farms and this means our pork costs more, but tastes much better. We rely on the discernment, interest in provenance and knowledge of our consumers to create demand for ethically-raised, better tasting pork.

To achieve our goal we had to build our stocks by searching the country for suitable pigs and starting a breeding program. It is not possible to buy an existing herd of pigs from an intensive farm and free range them because they have been ‘genetically modified’ to suit their environment, instead we chose heritage breed black pigs more suited to outdoors. What this means is that we have less meat product and we therefore have to pick where we sell our meat very carefully to ensure our customers understand and appreciate our story. As of today we have 97 pigs on the farm, some are on the breeding herd, some are piglets and some are coming up to slaughter weight. I cannot simply buy in pigs or meat products when I have a shortage of stock and therefore sometimes I simply do not have anything to sell and reluctantly have to let down customers.

These are the challenges of my business and I very much rely on my carefully chosen sales locations to ensure the business can continue. In Wellington I have chosen to sell at and work with, the Hill St Farmers Market (soon to be called the Thorndon Farmers Market), because they are a small community based market with lots of regulars and very focused stall holders.

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

The atmosphere is great on a Saturday morning and regardless of the weather I can always rely on my excellent customers to pop along and say hello. I have been so taken by the Thorndon market that when they asked for stall holders to become trustee’s and help with the running of the market I was keen to join in. One major challenge for The Thorndon Farmers Market is that the location does not easily allow for the market to meet the terms of an Authentic Farmers Market, as governed by the Farmers Market NZ organisation. In respect for this authentication and the organisation the Thorndon market has opted not to become a member, yet.

In contrast my other market of choice, Feilding Farmers Market, is a proud member of the Farmers Market NZ organisation and has, for the last three years, been voted best authentic farmers market, last winning the award in 2014. At Feilding I am surrounded by people who bake, cook, create, squeeze, grow or produce their own food. Its definitely an eclectic bunch of people but full of like minded business owners who strive to produce a better product and impart their knowledge to their customers. In an environment like this both the sellers and the customers know that the stall holders are authentic and the competition is on a level playing field. Or so I thought.

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On the 13th February I, like most regular stall holders, arrived early at the market. The normal hours are 9am till 2:30pm but I like to arrive at 8am as often my customers want to get their shopping done before the working day starts. At 9am a large mobile butchery van arrived from Waikanae Butchery, a retailer based on the Kapiti Coast. Given that a butcher is by no means a farmer and that they are able to sell wholesale meat products everyday of the week in their retail store I was sure that this was a mistake and approached the market manager. I was initially told that they had not seen the paperwork and therefore had not been approved but, as they had arrived, they would be allowed to trade for the day.

To make my point very clear, I am not opposed to competition. I have spent most of my life working in Consumer Electronics which is one of the most competitive industries in the world. Competition is healthy, creates a better products and is good for the producer and the consumer. However, unfair competition is not healthy, it does not care about the customer or the product and often destroys the person or producer who was striving to improve the product in the first place.

Let me explain, my daily routine is to feed the pigs, I ensure they are healthy, have water, wallows and plenty of space. On a thursday I personally load the pigs and drive to Wanganui to the abattoir. Because of the rules dictated by the Ministry of Primary Industries I have to employ a butcher to cut the meat and produce the sausages, we work together and I manage him to ensure my product is treated well and no fillers are used. I pick up the finished product, label it and take it to the market. I am involved in every aspect of the production of my products, including the finance, marketing, social media and legislation. A retailer like Waikanae Butchery does not have to worry about the animals, their welfare or any part of the farming. Instead they are able to focus on on-selling meat products each and every day. When they run out of meat they buy more, they are not constrained by breeding cycles because they rely on wholesalers. They are not involved in the upbringing of the animals and therefore are not able to vouch for their quality of life, even if they can tell you the farm it came from. (In the case of pork, they buy from Murrellen Pork in Canterbury and the farm is actually Free Farmed, not Free Range (click here to read about the difference) and there are no rules to govern the number of grower pigs kept indoors.)

Feilding Farmers Market is run by a management company. To ensure our thoughts were clear another stallholder called Venison Bouche and Woody’s decided to make formal complaints about the arrival of Waikanae Butchery based on the 3 Golden Rules for Farmers’ Markets and their stallholders:

(1)    A Farmers’ Market is a food market (e.g. no arts, craft, bric-a-brac) with some exceptions for plants and flowers.
(2)    This food is produced within a defined local area (each market can define their local region)
(3)    The vendor must be directly involved in the growing or production process of the food (e.g. no middle men, on-sellers, wholesalers, retailers, etc… )

However it quickly became apparent that I had not initially been told the truth and actually “(FFM) have received and pre-approved the application from Waikanae ButcheryI” There explanation on how they met the criteria and had been approved was that “stallholders must produce or add value to locally grown primary produce. ‘Adding value’ could be as simple as roasting, preparing, cutting and packing produce. Local is a grey area and we have discretion by a case by case basis to go outside the set geographical boundary.” In simple terms the product can be deemed local even if it is from Canterbury and the stall holder would be deemed to be adding value if they simply pack the product. Under these terms any supermarket in the area would be able to sell most products if they can list on the packaging where the produce came from and prove that they have packed the product.

Wishing to take the matter to the committee for the Farmers Market, who had a meeting on Friday 20th, I asked the manager to provide the details of the stall holders on the committee but was told that this information was confidential and that my concerns would be passed to the Chair. The following Venison Bouche and I were sent an email to say that Waikanae Butchery presented to the committee and that their promises to work with the management team were accepted and they had been approved. Unfortunately I was not invited to present my opinion and with a one sided argument is was clear that they would be allowed to attend the market. As part of their application Waikanae Butchery offered to not sell Venison and ‘work with’ Woody’s Farm on the pork products that they sell, however as I said at the start of this blog my issue was not about competition but about the morals of a farmers market. As a result of the decision Venison Bouche have already pulled out of the market (you can buy online from them by clicking here) and I am hoping they will join us at Thorndon Market one day.

So what will Woody’s Farm do? Personally I enjoying attending the farmers market and Feilding market is about 40% of our income. As we build the business we need this income to keep paying for the pig feed, which currently costs about $2000 per month. It is indeed sad that Feilding is no longer an authentic farmers market and given that I was threatened “that the Market rules [state] Stallholders must channel all concerns thru the Market Management Team…”. perhaps the decision will be out of my hands. However I will be talking to my customers to see their point of view and I hope that you will help to support me. We have also started to sell through The Daly Larder on Fergusson Street so consumers will be able to get Woody’s Farm product almost any day of the week.

It is a very difficult path I have taken in setting up a free range pig farm and somedays it can seem fruitless, with unexpected challenges, but we are nere to stay and I look forward to working with all my customers in the future, where ever you are.

TFWF#36: In which we eat bacon.

The goal of Woody’s Free Range farm is to be transparent. I am not a believer of false promises nor do I trust a business that does not use its own products. Because of this I have always been integral in preparing and tasting every product you eat with the Woody’s brand on it.

However I have never specifically tested our products again the others in the market, until now. Obviously I have been eating bacon from different suppliers and brands all my life (except for the short, obligatory, vegetarian stint when I was a student). I have eaten bacon all around the world (tip: don’t eat bacon in China) and as such I would not say I am an expert but I do think I know a little about the meat.

Over the last few months, since we started to sell our product, I have had a number of comments from customers about our meat. Overwhelmingly the comments about our bacon have been excellent, most say its like bacon used to be (more meaty), but some have said it was a little salty or a little fatty and so I decided to find out how we stack up against the competition.

A week ago we bought two lots of bacon from Countdown to compare to our own, one is a top of the range Free Farmed bacon and the other a top of the range Supermarket, intensively farmed, own brand bacon:

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Brand Product Price ($) Pack size (g) Price per kg Notes
Freedom Farms Eye Bacon, Smoked Rindless $9.50 250 $38.00 Free Farmed
Countdown Signature Middle Bacon $5.99 400 $14.98 Intensive Farmed
Woody’s Free Range Farm Middle Bacon (Berkshire) $9.66 284 $34.01 100% Free Range

Note: The Freedom Farms bacon was on special at $9.50 with normal price $11.29 ($45.16per kg)

The plan of the test was not to grade the bacon from best to worst (afterall you could hardly expect me to be unbiased could you) but it is rather to simply show you our findings in photos and a few descriptive words.

The first thing we did was take a slice of each bacon and lay it on a grill pan;

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We immediately noticed a few things that are apparent in the photo. Firstly our slice (left) had more fat, this is for a number of reasons, firstly free range pigs will have more fat and this was a winter pig that puts on fat and grows slowly but was also dryer and much more meaty and non see-through. The middle slice (Free Farmed) had the fat trimmed off and was wet and much thinner (you can see through it). Finally the intensive bacon (right) was again very wet (even had some odd jelly on it) and was again very see through.

We cooked all the bacon in two different ways, on the grill and in the pan so that we could cook them all at the same time and also measure the fat that came out.

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During pan cooking the Woodys bacon had the most fat but this allowed the bacon to gain crispiness during the cooking. The free farmed and intensively farmed bacon both had a brown liquid seep out during cooking and burn on the pan, this hindered the bacon from crisping up and started to burn instead. They both also had white foam appear on top of the meat, this solidified after cooking had finished and is due to the high water content of the meat. Next we grilled the bacon, which helps to separate the fat from the meat and I took close up pictures:

I am hoping that the above pictures allow you to see the clear differences between the different type of meats before and after cooking, look at the colour, the crispiness and even the size difference after cooking. The thickness of the bacon was a major contributor to the texture after cooking. The thinner meats were chewy and like cardboard whereas the Woody’s bacon was meaty and softer to chew.

Once again I realise that this is not a scientific experiment nor is it objective but I do hope that the photos let you get a bit of a feeling for the differences between the meats. I have deliberately not spoken about the taste because this would be too subjective.

The experiment also helped me to understand more about the fat in our meat, and whilst it helps with the cooking and tastes great I will be focused on trying to reduce the fat in our pigs as the farm continues to grow. The bacon we used was from a smaller breed, the Berkshire, and would therefore have more fat than our other breed, the Large Black. It was also a winter growing pig which is a slower grower and puts on more fat. Of course we could trim the fat off our bacon but it affects the flavour so I have decided to poll our customers to see if they want trimmed bacon or full fat?

Hopefully this is of interest to some of you and we will be back to normal farming talk in the next Tales from Woody’s Farm. If you do buy some of our bacon and you have some feedback (good or bad) please feel free to review us at Woodysfreerangefarm on facebook, comment on this blog or send us an email at info@woodysfarm.co.nz.

 

 

Water, water everywhere

I have been chasing water all summer here on the farm. Trying to get ram pumps to work and filling 1000L containers with water and carting them around in the back of various vehicles (melting a clutch in the process). The usual water holes have dried up and the small streams are all but a trickle. It’s definitely been a drought for New Zealand and I have been tested to the best of my very little knowledge about water.

I have been praying for rain for a few weeks now, all the grass has turned brown and the vegetables taste like concentrated versions of themselves. Tonight that will change. According to the weather forecast it is going to rain from tonight (Tuesday) to Thursday night and it will be torrential.

The Waikawa Stream, capable of rising over a meter in half an hour.

 

As I sit here in the kitchen I can see the sun setting on the Tararua ranges. These beautiful hills are also deadly and double as the catchment for the Waikawa stream which passes through our property and separates us, by a small river ford, from the breeding Pigs. It has rained like this once before since we have been on the farm and I was unable to get over the river for 24 hours.

Unlike cows pigs need feeding daily. In their lush green paddocks they have all the grass they can eat but they are spoilt and are used to the high-grade grain feed that I give them morning and night. So what happens when I can’t get over the river. Well in my normal, overly anxious, fashion I have already produced an Emergency Flooding Plan which comes into action as follows:

  • Before rain arrives try to feed all pigs with 2 days worth of food. DO NOT try to cross the stream if flow is fast. Stream level will drop in 24 hours normally. In extended periods of raised river flow access to the paddock can be gained through Adrian’s back farm track which starts on the other side of the river.

Putting my own plan into action I have been to collect 100’s of kilograms of juicy apple pulp donated by the very kind Sarah and Jono at Organic Nature. I then left big piles, at least two days worth, of yummy apple feed in each of the paddocks. I have made sure the tractor is working and located near the house in case I need to use it to cross the Waikawa. I have filled all the troughs to the brim (although I suspect water is the least of our worries) and all we can do now is sit back and wait.

Farming is very much a learning experience for me and so is living with the Waikawa Stream. Everyday brings a new challenge. Luckily there is no one around to judge me on my mistakes, just a herd of pigs who expect me to prepare for problems and create solutions. Good luck pigs, see you soon..

 

Hugh’s your daddy! – a new arrival.

Last Thursday we had a new arrival on the farm. Having been very disappointed and saddened by my trip to the Hawkes Bay the previous week I managed to source a registered Berkshire Boar just down the road in Levin. This boar is registered in the New Zealand Pig Breeders Association herd book and his official name is Ohau Count the 2nd (Ohau is the stud he came from and Count is the bloodline). Born on the 13th March 2013 he is not yet one year old but easily takes the crown of the oldest pig on the farm and given that he is part of my breeding herd he will be staying for a long time, probably up to 9 years. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to Hugh…

Ohau Count 2nd, 'Hugh' the Berkshire Boar

Ohau Count 2nd, ‘Hugh’ the Berkshire Boar

I am sure your first question is where did the name come from and the answer is the kitchen, Claire and I have decided to call all our breeding stock after famous chefs and of course the first one had to be Hugh, just you wait till Nigella arrives. With the arrival of Hugh came the first of my second breed of choice, the Berkshire (pronounced bark-cher). The Berkshire pig is smaller than the Large Black but still has a friendly personality and is known, especially in Japan, for its excellent meat quality which is likened to Beef Wagyu where the fat marbles through the meat.

Hugh has been on the farm just a few days and is already showing a great personality. From the day he arrived and wouldn’t get off the back of the ute to the complete mess he has made of his new 1 acre paddock. Hugh likes a good scratch behind the ears and a mud bath with me directing the water onto his belly.

Unfortunately for Hugh he won’t have any female company for a while as his mate to be, who arrives on Tuesday, is only 3 months old and it will be a good few months before she is ready for breeding, in the meantime he will just have to make do with a cold mud bath. Hopefully, if all goes well with the arranged marriage, we will have our first homegrown  litter of Berkshire piglets in six months time.

The inmates of Gul’egg’ A

Whilst the search for more breeding sows and boars continues I got to work on the chicken housing. Following my chosen path of recycle and reuse I found a design for a chicken house in the ‘Build it with pallets’ book and got to work. Unusually for me I have decided not to bore you with the details and images of the chicken house build but just skip straight to the good bits – the pictures.

A chicken home fit for a king.

A chicken home fit for a king.

Here are some more images for you to marvel at the new chicken house.

As you can see the chicken house is marked with a big A on the roof, this allows me to keep track of the number of chickens in each house (this is just the first of many) and how many eggs we get each day. In true soviet fashion I have named this house Gul’egg’ A and plan to have a whole camp of Gul’egg’s in the paddock just in time to sell eggs, along with bacon, at the farmer market in March. I estimate that each house could handle between 8 and 10 chickens but in the spirit of the farm philosophy I have decided to only house 6 chickens per Gul’egg’.

Having completed the house I manhandled it onto the back of the Landy and moved it into River Paddock 1 (which is about 1.5acres) , added some straw, a perch and set up the nesting boxes with some cosy sawdust. The next day Claire and I headed out on the search for chickens and having received a tip off we headed for the Big Egg Company on Roslyn Road in Levin, armed with Woody’s travelling crate that I doubt he will ever use again. At $15 each we very quickly became the proud owners of 6 ex “free farmed” chickens and set off back home to get them laying.

Arriving at their new home Claire and I lifted the chickens out of the crate and into the house, added their sparkling new water container and feeder and closed the lid for the night. I am told that you should lock the chickens in on their first night so they get used to what is now home, we did this and went to bed. The next morning Claire was up early and excited to get to the chickens and see if they had laid. We headed down to Gul’egg’ alley and slowly raised the lid…no eggs. Not an issue we were just as excited to open the door and let the hens have their first taste of REAL FREE RANGE.

Opening the door to the chicken house provided the chickens with their first opportunity to run free, escape their shackles and make a break for it. However the chicken were institutionalised and simply stared at the open door with a great deal of suspicion. Claire and I retreated a safe distance and watched….a minute later the first plucky sole decided to take a look outside, closely followed by another, they were happy at last.

A few hours went past and the chickens came and went at their leisure, I decided to have another look in the hen house and look what I found:

They are not golden, but they might as well be.

They are not golden, but they might as well be.

So Woody’s Farm has its first produce for sale, true free range eggs soon to be for sale. Or, why not just come and meet the chickens.

Come and meet the chickens.

Come and meet the chickens.

Land(ing) in all kinds of trouble.

As a Christmas special today you get two blogs, enjoy!

The last week has been a week of much disappointment and sadness for Landy. A few weeks ago I decided to get him serviced and called up the local mechanic in Ohau. Having been assured by the mechanic that he knew the car from its previous owners and that I was allowed to drive the Landy on the road without tax or insurance I set off on the 5 min journey to the mechanic, Claire following closely behind in the Colorado.

Almost three weeks later, two deliveries of parts from the UK and many follow up calls to the mechanic I was at last told she was ready to be collected. Dreaming of a car that started straight away, stopped when you pressed the brakes and no longer smoked like an old woman sitting in a rocking chair in Cuba, we set off to pick up the car. And this is when the story starts to turn sour.

I was prepared for the bill to go from the $390 mark mentioned the last time I talked to the mechanic to more like $690 (he had replaced the brake master cylinder and rear brake cylinders with parts I had bought from the UK) but I was not prepared for the slightly nonchalant way the mechanic informed me the cost was actually $1600. Lets put this in perspective, the car drives ok and is great on the farm but it is not roadworthy and therefore probably not even worth $1600, so what on gods earth made him think he could try and charge $1600 for work that he had not even discussed with me? After a lengthy conversation he agreed to reduce the cost to $1000 and by then I had had enough of the conversation and Claire was calling me from the Colorado to ask if she could leave the forecourt where she was waiting.

I took the keys, reminded the mechanic that I was not happy and set off to the petrol station to fill up before heading back to the farm (having been told there was enough petrol for the 4 min drive). As I drove off the forecourt, with Claire heading in the opposite direction, I immediately noticed that the brakes were still VERY spongy and the speedo no longer worked. Then I got an even greater surprise, the choke handle had been moved, I do remember the mechanic had called me a few weeks ago to say the choke was tough to pull because it was caught on something, he had decided to reroute it, I thought he meant behind the scenes in the engine bay but what he actually did was drill a hole in the dashboard on the other side of the steering wheel and put the handle through the new hole, worse still it was no longer connected to the engine at all and does nothing.

Reeling in shock about the lack of improvements for $1000 I carried on along the road for 3 mins until with a splutter and a cough she ran out of fuel (within view of the petrol station). Having been forced to buy another fuel tank and $10 worth of fuel for $30 I filled her up and drove the 50m or so to the station. Landy hasn’t had a good drink in a while and so I was not surprised she was thirsty, but as the pump racked up $120 – $130 – $140 I was getting a little ashen faced. She took a total of $156 worth of fuel to fill and when I got back in the car I  was excited to find the petrol gauge seemed to work (it had not done so before). I headed back home thinking that I would never run out of petrol again now that the gauge worked, how wrong I was. As I pulled in to our bumpy house drive the fuel gauge wavered wildly from left to right with the flow of the fuel in the tank and as I stopped I noticed that the strong smell of petrol had followed me  from the petrol station and was infact emanating from a leak in the petrol tank where the fuel gauge sender unit went into the tank and had not been sealed properly…

The next day.

Rueben and I decided to drive the large field over the river and draw up a plan for the paddocks where I would house the breeding sows and boars. As we circled the field, taking GPS readings, we came up to the swampy section at the back and decided to see just how swampy it was, here is the answer:

Land Rover, farm

Landy, bogged down by earthly problems.

So as Reuben and I sat in the Land Rover, slowly sinking to the bottom of the earth, I called Claire on the (very newly replaced – thanks Uniden) UHF radio:

“Um…are you busy?”
“I’m working, why?”
“Um, cos we need you to come over the river and rescue us…”

Like an angelic Ginger version of Lara Croft, Claire jumped in the Colorado, forded the river and arrived like a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark at the gate of the paddock. Within about 10 mins we had managed to free Landy from his resting place and everyone set off in their respective cars, my brakes seeming to get softer and softer as I came down the hill to the river. A quick inspection under the car and I found the source of the problem, whilst trying to get out of the bog I had managed to wind a good percentage of the field around the drive shaft which in turn had ripped the brake pipe from its location and twisted it around the shaft until it had snapped.

In summary, after spending $1000 I now have a car with no brakes, a leaky petrol tank, a wildly over excited fuel gauge and a choke that doesn’t work sticking out of a new hole in the middle of my dashboard. Bringing me neatly to this weeks Farm School Detention which is: if you really want something done, get on the internet, buy a book and do it yourself. I am now researching for a brake pipe plan/design for a 1987 110 Land Rover and I will be fitting it myself, no more Mr Mechanic for me.

And finally I would like to wish you all, your families and friends, a very Merry Christmas from us all here at Woody’s Farm. May your stockings be full of presents and your supermarket bought Christmas hams be unfulfilling (because next year I hope they will all be from Woody’s Farm….)