Meat Free Week is a time for thinking about meat eating – but what about meat farming? We asked Young Farmer of the Year (and keeper of sheep) Anika Molesworth for her perspective on one of the most fraught food conversations most people can have. And we were totally taken aback.
They say just beyond Broken Hill you can see the curvature of the Earth. The red plains seem to stretch out forever. On hot summer days willy-willys, also known as whirly-winds or dust devils, dance across the horizon. Parched earth rhythmically twirls heavenward as if in an ancient Chinese ribbon dance. For those who choose to live here, their affinity with the land and the environment is indissoluble.
As a farmer of the arid inland, I know poignantly the impacts of climate change. To the untrained eye this land looks deserted and lifeless. But for those who have witnessed the migration of a thousand emerald budgies, a snow field of white paper daisies, or the magic of a rock wallaby’s first stumbling hops, it is undeniable that this land breathes and evolves as the seasons change. But this ecosystem is fragile – an eggshell of interdependent and symbiotic relationships. And as the climate challenges facing inland Australia rise, the protection of these delicate lands is paramount.
“The bush has moods and changes, as the seasons rise and fall, And the men who know the bushland – they are loyal through it all.”
The hardened salt-of-the-earth farmers I know that occupy this land may not first appear appropriate for this vital task. Some with more sun wrinkles crisscrossing their face than the ephemeral creeks that transport life after rain. However, it is these custodians of the land that protect the balance. From their hands they produce food and fibre that feed our nation and those across the seas. They nurture the native flora and fauna, which has adapted to these unique environments, and protect the timeless landscapes. These farmers value more the soaking rainfall than diamonds that number the stars on a clear outback night.
Farming sustainably requires good information, adaptability, support networks, and a fire in the belly to strive forward even when the odds are not in one’s favour. Holistic management is operating with a birds-eye perspective. It involves a comprehensive, anticipatory design approach. In extensive grazing systems this means working with, not against, the resources within the property boundaries and beyond. It is about not only maintaining natural assets, but enhancing them – the notion that these fragile inland environs can produce quality food and fibre without exhaustion or degradation when carefully managed.
Livestock that graze upon the arid lands in Australia are generally managed differently to those you see and hear about in the documentaries you might see from the States. They’re in a low-intensity, low-stress environment. The resources on which they depend, such as nutrients and water, are cherished fervently by the farmer. Soil cover from vegetation keeps precious nutrients and organic matter on the ground, reducing the chance of wind and water erosion. The vegetation takes up these nutrients which are then utilised by the livestock to sustain them. Rainfall is caught in large in-ground dams, and distributed across country through pipe networks, to feed distant troughs and the dependent livestock. The importance of renewable energy is well understood by farmers, with solar and wind energy commonly used to transport this water and provide electricity. Looking after nutrient and water reserves now means greater security for the future and the continued ability to raise livestock here.
When one works all day without seeing another human face, you could easily be mistaken by thinking that the arid inland is a lonely place. However, peering a little closer with quiet patience, it is only a matter of time before the whole gamut of biodiversity and relationship intricacy is realised. Farmers understand the land on which they live and operate, the challenges that climate change presents, and the opportunities that must be sought.
To make the most of these opportunities for farmers to do good, we need more eaters to realise the power of what’s on their plate. It’s heartening meeting farmers like Anika and our volunteers who get it. Now it’s time to start a conversation with those who haven’t. Yet. Looking for more meaty discussion? Check out our series about Beefjam, where we first met Anika.