Tammi and Stuart Jonas are not what you might expect of a farming couple. Yes, they raise pork very differently – heritage breeds are raised on pasture at Jonai Farms, and sold direct to the eater (and through a CSA). However, they’re also vocal advocates – you can check out their blog about their ups and downs, which offers a level of transparency on ethical meat issues that you would rarely get elsewhere. It’s perfect fodder if you’ve ever wondered “what does ethical meat mean, anyway”? They also run workshops to spread the essence of how to make meat more sustainable.
Importantly, their pork is not just whatever-hipster-label-is-currently-in. They are genuinely dedicated to changing the very model of getting food to our plates. We had a chat with Tammi to see what sustainable meat could look like in practice.
What do you do differently compared to most Australian farms, and why?
Possibly the most significant difference is our no-growth mentality – just because our market is bigger than our supply doesn’t mean we have to endlessly grow to chase that demand. We don’t think farms should scale, we believe we should multiply for the benefit of land, animals, and rural communities. We also value work over capital, a key underpinning of solidarity economies that’s central to our entire community-supported agriculture model. Finally, we’ve worked hard to wean ourselves off purpose-grown grain as it’s an unsustainable feed source for livestock, and instead divert many tonnes of food waste away from landfill and use it as nutritious animal feed.
Why do you think more farmers don’t farm the way you do?
Because it’s bloody hard physical work, it’s complicated, and people in our society have come to believe we are entitled to more leisure and less manual labour, and that the simpler things are the better. But as above, we value labour, and we also value complexity – the most resilient ecosystems are deeply complex and diverse, so that’s what we’re trying to create here with our agroecological pursuits. :-)
Often there’s a bit of black-and-white “big ag” vs “small producers” rhetoric going on – but what’s something you find you CAN agree on with other farmers?
We agree with lots of things with other farmers of all sizes – we all want to feed our families and we want to produce a good, safe food product. We differ in how we achieve that, as we believe that the bigger farms get, the less connected they are to their land and animals. Not to mention their communities who they rarely feed, as their size dictates that they’re locked into long supply chains to feed larger populations. But I suspect that plenty of the operators of big industrial farms would quite enjoy the lifestyle and satisfaction of small-scale farming if someone just showed them how to make a living from it (and if people weren’t so seduced by the lure of power and influence that [purportedly] comes with size).
What are the best parts of your job?
So many things. Endless horizons and beautiful skies surrounding a deeply pleasurable life of physical labour balanced with writing and advocating for food sovereignty… Regular farm planning to consistently improve our practices and learn from others. Working with my team in the boning room and starting the day with five or six carcasses in the chiller and finishing with a fridge full of mindfully crafted cuts of meat for a community of eaters who support and nourish us as much as we do them. Seasonal sausage recipe development! :-)
What should I know that I probably don’t know?
If the ethics of confining animals for their entire lives in sheds isn’t a compelling enough reason to stay away from industrial pork and poultry, consider this – routine use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics is causing a rise in the number of ‘superbugs’, that is antibiotic resistant bacterial infections that kill around 23,000 Americans every year now. On the viral side of the problem of confining thousands of homogeneous animals in conditions that create low immunity, these pigs and birds are ‘food for flu’, creating the perfect environment for new strains of influenza to arise, with the potential for a major epidemic to sweep the world and kill billions of people. Intensive pig and poultry production is a blight on our society and a serious public health risk, so don’t eat pork or chicken unless you genuinely know something about the farm.
What’s your favourite way to eat what you grow?
Sparingly. :-) We support the Slow Meat mantra – eat better meat, less.
Image credits: Jonai Farms