Full Circle

Berta the cow really holds a very special place in our hearts. She was the first cow we bought and showed us just how amazing a good cow can be. She was also the first cow I had calve, she sailed through it like a pro and Iggy was born. We had naively planned to have the rest of the dairy up and running by the time she calved 21 months ago so it was unknown to me at the time that I would spend the next 18 months making cheese at home every night and we would have to keep to a strict daily cheese consumption quota.

I’m reflecting on this now as Berta is due to calve again this weekend. Her 8th calf, another Dairy Shorthorn, this time no night cheesemaking and I can actually sell her delicious milk!

Berta and Caledonia 9 months ago

Everyone on the farm is working like the dream team, milking is a breeze and with this amazing rain we’ve had I’m feeling great about the season. As Berta gets closer though I’m having more sleepless nights with worry. During her last lactation, one week after Oli’s accident when he lost a finger, Berta got mastitis. It was a very dark time for me, I had many moments of questioning if I was cut out for dairy farming.

Two factors lead to Berta’s mastitis. Firstly my mismanagement of the calves. It was my first lesson in always prioritising the cows health above all others. As she was feeding 2 calves and they had become boisterous in their feeding she had developed a bad cut on her teat. As soon as this happened I should have weaned the calves off her straight away, even if this meant extra time feeding calves and me having to milk twice a day and make more cheese. In the long run this still would have taken less time. I didn’t wean them though, and because of these cuts she contracted mastitis. She made an amazing recovery but it has left her udder in the high risk category for future mastitis particularly in the first few months after calving when she’s producing so much milk.

The second factor is her breeding. Berta is a high production cow, we’re talking 43ltrs a day at peak. She’s a big black bitsa, probably mainly Friesian. This has been a big influence on me to move away from these high production breeds. There is a reason the average dairy cow only makes it to 5 years old; when you breed an animal to be so productive in one form it leaves them vulnerable in others. Dairy animals are very vulnerable when compared to an animal breed for meat. A local Dairy Shorthorn farmer explained to me how before the war and the beginning of industrial agriculture, most farmers favoured dual purpose breeds such as the Shorthorn as small farms had to be financial resilience and this was only possible through making an income off all elements of the business; growing out the male calves for meat was a key part of this. So yes, many of these older breeds produce less butter fat than a jersey and less litres than a Friesian/Holstein, but with that comes a more resilient animal from what I’ve seen. Obviously within this every animal is an individual with there own weaknesses and then the way they are managed has a huge impact on their health and strength. However as we have seen with all heritage breeds vs single purpose breeds, whether it’s egg birds or meat birds, high production meat animals and dairy animals, when you breed for one particular trait you leave other traits lacking. The way they are managed over generations also impacts how they respond to conditions. So many of these older breeds will do well on what many would call ‘poorer’ quality feed. I question this ‘poorer’ as many of the dairy breeds respond better to high protein feeds and grain however cows as a species have evolved as grazers and the only grain they would naturally be eating is seed heads on grasses, not kilos at a time. So living in Central Victoria where the pastures are far from ‘high quality’, I need to be looking towards animals who do better on the feed we can grow. After calving, my Shorthorns haven’t skipped a beat and have stayed in beautiful condition, the Jersey and Berta however are much harder to keep condition on as they priorities their energy for milk production, sacrificing themselves.

So I’m feeling a little melancholy about Berta calving this time round. Will she get sick again due to past damage? Will I be able to keep her in such good condition that she will have the strength to fight for herself. In organic farming this is how you manage health, rather than fighting illness yourself, you are equipping the animal with everything you can to fight herself. I’m also feeling guilt, that our industry/culture/society has chased this cheap commodity food to a point where we have created super animals who are such a high risk to themselves. That’s really at the core of animal cruelty to me.

Learning is hard when working within animal systems. It often happens at the expense of an animal, so the key is to never make the mistake twice and to learn from others mistakes and knowledge as much as you possibly can.

So I watch with eagle eyes. This cow has brought me so much joy and wisdom, I hope to be able to do my best to ensure her health, minimal pain and treat her with the greatest respect for, hopefully, many years to come, even if this may be her last calving and she gets to retire.

What did it cost?

Container delivered, we’re nearly there right?

Now that we are up and running I thought I would spend this post reflecting on the financial cost of setting up Sellar Farmhouse Creamery to date.

The back story is I spent the previous 10 years saving to either buy a property or start a business. Not needing to take out a loan to start the business meant as the build dragged on I did not have the added pressure of owing the bank and it gave us the freedom to stay true to our ethics. I must also add that I have not had to pay rent or household power bills while this build happened as we live off grid in a house Oli previously built.

So what did the build cost? Below is a break down of costs so far but a few explainer notes first.

I have included Oli’s hours which have not yet been paid. Paying him at only $30 an hour will add up to $70,000 so this is not to be over looked as many of the jobs he did I would have paid at least 3 times as much to have a contractor do. I haven’t counted my hours at all but my focus has been much more on running the farm than building. I’ve made note of a few other people who donated large amounts of time/labour, however I don’t think there is a single person who has been involved in this business so far who hasn’t gone above and beyond what was asked. As I always say, none of this would have been possible if not for the generosity of so many people. Words can’t express how grateful I am to them for helping me take this crazy dream and make it a reality!

I’ve added a column to show what was new and what was second hand, much of the materials were second hand which meant that sometimes we got a good deal, and sometimes that good deal was balanced out by the hours Oli spent fixing it up. But we believe very strongly in reusing materials so we wouldn’t change a thing.

The most difficult thing financial was that we hadn’t banked on running a farm for 18 months before selling any product. So while the build didn’t blow out to much, we did spent far more money than expected before some came back in and have put a few projects on hold until the business is up and running.

The repair of our Pasteurisation vat after it was blown up cost $8,607 which was covered in full by the professional’s insurance claim so we didn’t end up out of pocket, just more grey hairs.

Some major hurdles

So this is what it took beyond the blood, sweat and tears to start up. The next big projects to come are:

  • the yogurt making equipment
  • Butter and cream equipment
  • Solar photovoltaic panels to help reduce our dependency on grid electricity.
  • Biomass furnace: Oli is currently installing, with much excitement, the biomass furnace to heat the water in winter and to heat the water above the temperature which our flat plate solar thermal can take it in summer.

I’m sure you will hear a lot about this from us in future posts.

The new biomass furnace

We are ready!

4/12/2013 – Start my internship at Sutton Grange Organic Farm (Holy Goat Cheese)

25/07/2016 – Decide to make the jump! Start putting the wheels in motion to start my own micro dairy.

8/08/2016 – Following the Bendigo Food Hubs Conference, I text Katie Finlay to ask if I can start my business on their farm.

15/04/2017 – Begin my 6 month sabbatical traveling up and down the east coast volunteering on dairy farms and factories. I visit 10 businesses whose generosity and knowledge gave me huge insight into running an organic, small, calf-at-foot dairy and processing milk, yogurt, butter and cream to sell direct to customers!

25/06/2017 – First meet Berta and fall in love. In late June I make an offer to buy her and I pick her up late October. Shit gets real.

26/2/2018 – Break ground at Harcourt, begin the long build.

8/5/2018 – Begin milking

7/8/2019 – Dairy Food Safety Victoria licences Sellar Farmhouse Creamery

1/11/2019 – We bottle our first batch

6/11/2019 WE START SELLING MILK!

Tomorrow marks the launch of the Castlemaine Farmers Market Weekly where we will be selling out first bottles of milk. We are so excited to have this weekly market as a sales avenue, offering a direct transaction between farmer and customer. We will have a very limited number of bottles (43) to sell tomorrow so come on down to get one along with all the other fantastic local produce.

While continuing to sell at the Farmers Market Weekly(CFMW) we will be launching our CSA in the next few weeks. The Community Supported Agriculture model connects customers directly with their farmer to share the joys and risks involved in farming. People will be able to purchase a subscription. They nominate the quantity of product they require on a weekly basis, where they would like to pick it up from (currently CFMW – Wed, farm shop – Fri, Fryerstown – Mon). A pre-payment will be required and customers get a reasonable discount for helping the farmer have security in their sales. Subscribers will also get access to the perks like farm tours, first option on extras and exclusive access to specialty products like butter. Subscription will be offered through the waiting list below so get your name down and we’ll let you know as soon as product becomes available to fill your orders.

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On the farm we’ve had the birth of Stella, the first heifer for the year and the last calf I’ll have sired to Satellite, the remarkable bull. While her mother Luna has been very sick post calving, she’s making an excellent recovery. Next to calve is Quartz, so the milk supply will only build from here.

Luna and Stella (the astronomical family line)

As always, thanks to everyone who’s helped make this all possible. From the farmers who’ve shared their knowledge and time to the people who’ve kept us fed and loved. Thanks.

Keeping the s**t moving

While we are waiting for our vat to be fixed I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce our mobile milking parlour!

I’ve been putting off my public rave about this until our license came through. To our knowledge this is the first licensed mobile milking parlour in the country and we weren’t sure how things would play out. But we were so pleased that DFSV could also see the benefits of this system and have been really supportive of it. yay!

Olive being milked (My nephew George made the plaque)

Reason to challenge the norm.

Whenever you have large amounts of animals congregating in the same place regularly, it’s a given that you will end up with environmental problems. Concentration of manure creates high levels of nitrogen, the plants which then grow are usually considered weeds; cape weed, mallow, nettles etc. Severe animal impact results in dusty bare ground in summer; burning off any fertility in the soil and making a hard pack surface for water to run off. In winter a muddy pit which leads to dirty animals. As udders and teats get dirty the risk of mastitis increases and increased udder cleaning time. It’s also just not very pleasant working in mud every day, cow and human alike.

However, once you turn down the concentration dial, both these problems: fertility and impact, become incredibly valuable tools, if not vital, for restoring landscapes functions. If only you could have these elements spread out across the paddock rather than concentrated in holding yards, lane-ways and dairy parlours.

Enter the mobile milking parlour. This is certainly not a new concept. In Europe these are regularly used with smaller herds, particularly in grazing events such as the Alpage where animals spend summers moving up the mountain to take advantage of magnificent pastures. To bring the herd back down the mountain for milking daily would defeat the purpose completely. So we had many examples to offer inspiration when designing. While on my 6 month sabbatical up the east coast I spoke with many dairy farmers about this concept. It was at the dinner table at Elgaar farm in Tasmania that Joe started designing the basic trailer with me, what would work and what wouldn’t.

Oli and I spent lots of time looking at the mototecha model which comes out of Ukraine, as well as Taranaki’s take on this and decided on alterations to meet our needs.

Initial designs

1.) It seemed silly to do the wash down in the paddock which would require hot and cold water and cleaning chemicals. We already have all these at the factory, so why not have all the equipment based on the back of a ute which drives back to the factory with the milk.

Milking equipment in the factory

2.) Many of the European models don’t have a floor but we decided for hygiene purposes we wanted a cleanable floor with good airflow, which means feet and milking equipment are always off the ground. It was suggested that expanded mesh as the floor could cause damage to cows hoofs over time, Oli had acquired some old mining trommel mesh which was super strong and smooth.

Construction of the floor

3.) We wanted the trailer as compact as possible for moving through gates and around paddocks. We did the calculations and with the way we milk discovered it wasn’t that much quicker to milk four than three. We then spun the stalls around so they come in one side and out the other.

4.) It has room to evolve. Currently our vacuum pump can only milk one at a time. So I milk from the middle bay, cow on left on the cups while I prep the cow on the right and visa versa, just like a micro herringbone dairy. Then if we expand to a bigger vacuum pump I can milk from the back under the verandah with cows in all 3 stalls.

Training Olive

5.) Calf pens. I’m running a calf at foot operation. So ideally I want all infrastructure in one. So at the back of the parlour is the pop out calf pen with roof. After a week the calves spend the nights here where they can still have contact with their mothers but can’t drink. The cow can come and go all night, checking on her calf and going out to graze. Then everyone’s near-by for milking in the morning and followed by letting the calves out for the day with their mother.

Calf pen with Iggy and Norma

6.) The engineering of how the beast would be movable had a lot of shelved ideas. We ended up with hydraulic rams on two back wheels and a front foot which raise and lower the parlour to the ground. The only unavoidable downfall of the parlour is how top heavy it is. Driving through the paddocks must be slow and avoiding bumps and strong slopes where possible.

Building the frame

Training

There is good reasons the standard for dairy is permanent infrastructure with holding yards and laneways. Animals get used to the the routine and it’s easy to train newbies as they follow the animal in front and the yards help to push them in.

Training Joyce

So much of milking is habitual for animals. The famous Salers cow in France are milked in the fields with no restraint. Having a tame, calm herd is very important for training in a mobile milking system with no yards and lane-ways. So far it’s been successful. Within three days of training, all five cows have been correctly in the parlour on cups. I say correctly as often the first milking or two may involve them eating off the floor and having their back legs on the ground, reluctant to fully succumb to the stall. Some have been lead in with a halter for the first few months. As Joyce is not halter trained I use make-shift yards while she learns the ropes. But when habit kicks in along with the hunger for breakfast, they all seem to walk themselves in. But this all takes time and patience. Once trained they might be waiting for my arrival or I can call a name and they come over from grazing but its a significant investment.

Training Daisybell early on

Water

In stationary dairies there is usually a concrete holding yard where cows wait to come in. This and the dairy must be cleaned out with water at the end of every milking. Basically your mixing excrement with water, significantly increasing the volume and boy do bacteria flourish a moist environment. This ‘problematic’ waste is then held in settling ponds; making sure it doesn’t leak into any water courses and then spread back out over the paddocks with machinery. Hmm actually we do the same with human waste. This is a huge water user, the average dairy milking 100 cows can use around 6000ltrs a day in washdown (this includes the milking lines). The advantage of milking in the paddock is I just move the parlour, preferably before there is noticeable build up of poo and bare ground. On the rare occasion that a cow poos in the parlour, I simply sweep it out and pour a bucket of water over until it’s clean. The water is quickly absorbed into the ground under the mesh flour in that case. Both the quantities of poo and water are much lower and the airflow over the mesh means it dries much quicker.

Portable investment

The second important factor which influenced us to build a mobile milking parlour is that we are leasing land. I need all my infrastructure to be portable so that when I move properties I can take all my investment with me. My business is not attached to land, as my situation changes it can come with me, or it can be sold to anyone anywhere in the country.

Moving the parlour

In all, the parlour itself has cost us $5200 in materials and 210hrs of Oli’s labour. We have made a few adjustments over time, with many versions of power and vacuum pump location until we finally installed the inline milking lines.

Cara milking Berta

The parlour was the first bit of infrastructure we designed and Oli built. You would think that because of this, we would come across many problems and things we wish we’d done differently. But no, there is not a mornings milking that I don’t rejoice in how well it all works.

I look forward to sharing a video of the pack-up, move and set up when we finally get to making one. It’s exciting stuff!


We’re there….almost

We did it!

Or that’s what I’d planned to say. And we have to a large degree, so lets celebrate that!

Our license has come through!

As you all know we’ve been working non-stop for the last 18 months to build this dairy. There’s been so many ups and downs. So much physical, mental and emotional support from so many people. There has definitely been blood, sweat and tears from both Oli and I on multiple occasions, and we got there.

We had a final race towards the inspection day, finally cleaning up the building site to be a space filled with pride. 21 months after I first applied to Dairy Food Safety Victoria, 18 months after writing the draft of my Food Safety Plan, 2 year’s after buying our pasteuriser vat and 3 Food Safety Officers later, we had our inspection.

We are now a licensed dairy farm and manufacturer! Yippee! What a celebration!

Things weren’t completely straight forward. To our knowledge we have the first licensed mobile milking parlour in Victoria (I’d love to know of others around the country if they exist). I can’t wait to fully launch this to the world in a future blog post. I’ve been milking with it for 15 months now and it has definitely been the most streamline part of the build. I’m so excited to be supported by DFSV (Dairy Food Safety Vic) to showcase this alternative model for milking. It has many benefits for land and animal health as well as being an affordable option for those who are not able to own the land they farm and invest in permanent infrastructure.

Using the parlour early on .

The Creamery is the factory of my dreams! It’s such a great space to work in. Oli and Sam have still been working round the clock to finalise the automation of the pasteuriser system and chasing leaks in the never ending pipework.

The mid year calving is over. Blue (Bluebell) is our constant source of happiness and has his mum Daisybell’s full attention as her years of prior udder damage omit her from being part of the milking herd. She is destined for retirement to the North East with her owner.

Blue

Olive mourned her still born boy but has been an absolute angel to teach the milking routeing to. She has opened my eyes to what ‘cream on top’ from a jersey really means!

Olive wanting back in after milking

We’ve bought what will, probably, be the last off-farm animal. Joyce, a 9 year old, certified organic, pure Illawarra Dairy-Shorthorn. Another old bag to join Berta at the head of the herd. She’s due to calve in 4 weeks.

Joyce

We have confirmation that Berta is pregnant with another Dairy-Shorthorn calf, due in March.

Caledonia was a very handsome Dairy-Shorthorn bull!

AND IT SNOWED! ON FARM! ON COWS!

So we’ve had ups and downs but are both feeling really excited about how far we’ve come and how close we are to selling! As I mentioned in the last blog, we will start selling within our friends and family network while we fine-tune the system. Then hopefully by mid to late spring we can open orders to the larger community. You can secure your spot for milk subscriptions on this waiting list.

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Then, just like a good soap opera, when you though ‘finally they’ve made it’, the cliff hanger. In testing the pasteuriser vat system, we discovered that the repair we had done 18 months ago had not actually been successful. Having to remove the pasteuriser from the factory and load it back on the ute to return it for the original repair to be redone was frustrating given how close things were to being operational. That was nothing compared to how we then felt when serious damage was done to it while off-sight getting repaired. Possibly irreparable.

So, yes we are licensed and ready in many ways, but the key component to the whole system has been taken out and we’re waiting to hear if it’s repairable or we need to get a new vat built. It’s been very frustrating getting this close and taking such a hit, but we’ll get there, it may just take a little longer.

In a place like this, with people and cow’s who warm my heart, magical snow and the smell of spring, life’s not too bad though.

Home run

This time I mean it when I say we’re nearly there, I promise!

Sinks in

It’s been a while since I updated you on our progress, we’ve been busy getting the factory ready and now we’re so close to calling the inspectors.

We’ve put the equipment in.

Pasteuriser vat in.

Factory water plumbing is finished.What a luxury to have hot flowing water from the tank!

Hot and cold process water taps.

The coolroom’s fully operational.

Coolroom door operational.

The the main thing to go before we can get licensed is the data logging and automation of the heating and cooling of the pasteuriser vat which Oli and Sam are busy nerding out on.

Water heating and cooling system.

Then I make the call, get my Food Safety Plan signed off, have the factory and milking parlour inspected, make changes required, get licensed and start selling, well that’s the plan!

To begin with while milk is in small quantities and we are refining our systems we will be just selling bottled milk to patient friends and family, hopefully opening up to public sales in Spring. I will be selling through the farmers market for those who want ad hoc milk and for those more regular dairy consumers, sales will be via a CSA subscription model.

This will will require you to make an order via my Open Food Network online shop where you can choose your desired quantity and pick up location. When you begin, monthly prepayment will be required. To decrease the admin at my end this will increase to a 3 monthly payment once you’ve got a feel for the routine and how much you consume. If any of this is difficult to navigate or afford please contact me and I may be able to help. I want this to be as accessible as possible for people. If you would like to go onto the waiting list for orders, pop your name and email in the form below. I will keep you updated on when CSA subscriptions become available.

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Waiting for their ration, soon to be lactating themselves.

The other exciting, timely news will be the arrival of new calves. Daisybell is due today to be having her 6th and final calf, it will be her first pure jersey calf so I’ve got my fingers crossed for a heifer.

A very wide Daisybell

Olive, or boomba as she’s become known is having her first calf. Slightly overweight and 4 years old is not ideal to be having her first calf without problems, I’m watching like a hawk for any signs of milk fever or trouble calving, ready to jump in and assist if needed. Udders are bagging up, bellies are dropping, hips are widening and swags are slowing.

Olives udder developing

I can’t wait to start selling. Building took so much longer than planned but I must say it’s been so valuable to have this last year to focus on developing and improving herd and land systems, without which none of this is possible. Being slightly more confident in these areas I can now move some focus onto processing and customer systems.

As always, thanks for your patience! I can’t wait to share our liquid gold!

Ups and downs

Things just keep progressing.

Our new floor!

Our floor just went in. AHHHHH! Now it really feels like a factory! The list is definitely getting shorter, although I’m sure the list of still-to-do just keeps growing, hmmm. Install the doors, finish the little jobs such as door seals, install all equipment/sinks/benches, get equipment working, set up the refrigeration system for cold water storage, finish the hot water system, install solar hot water system, finish Food Safety Plan, GET LICENSED!

The big one we’ve been working on recently is the refrigeration systems. Oli wrote in a previous post about the reuse of refrigeration systems and the huge effect refrigerant gases have on exacerbating global warming. We’ve often mentioned Drawdown, an amazing research project proposing the 100 most effective ways to reduce global warming. Refrigerant Management is ranked as the #1 solution. When I first read this, with little knowledge of the subject, I imagined things like old fridges being dumped here in Australia or sent off to poorer countries who didn’t have the means of proper disposal. I certainly didn’t realise the extent to which poor disposal practices happens right here in Australia. We’ve heard so many stories recently of people, who certainly should know better, just cutting the pipes and releasing the gases and rubbish tips running over refrigerant system units with excavators instead of having the gas reclaimed for safe disposal. Everywhere in this country we are surrounded by refrigeration. Most homes, shops, offices and vehicles are equipped with one or more air conditioner, fridge or freezer. Almost all of which end up leaking their gases into the atmosphere due to poor maintenance and more often than not, don’t have the gas recovered when being decommissioned. Why? Mainly the cost of doing it and lack of awareness.

Then there is the practical element of how refrigeration effects our dairy. I’ll need a cool room, which we now have with a new refrigeration unit installed! woohoo! There is the chilling of the milk. Regulation requires that all raw milk be chilled and stored below 5°c within 3.5 hrs from the start of milking. Then, once pasteurised, the milk must once again be chilled and stored below 5°c. We are using a 200ltr jacketed vat for both the storing and pasteurising of the milk, which will then be bottled for fresh milk or transformed into yogurt. All these steps require a large amount (we’re aiming for 2300ltrs) of cold water (below 2°c) on hand. Another huge electricity user and refrigeration unit.

Second hand refrigeration unit arriving

We’ve learnt many lessons on-the-job building this dairy. A big one was not having the old milk vats, which will store the cold process water, pressure tested before buying them. The first 2 we bought have leaks and wont hold refrigerant gas. We then set about finding some new ones, preferably with the refrigeration unit connected and operational, and this time taking our fridgy Graham with us!

Installing the new milk vat

This next part really stopped us in our tracks. We found an operational milk vat, 2 of them, with reconditioned compressors, and a new hot water service, hoses, heat exchanges, buckets, etc. We could have bought the whole dairy if we wanted. The dairy we bough from was being pulled apart as the dairy farmer had taken his life in January. Being in his dairy, hearing the stories of his life, young family, debt and death really hit us hard. Hearing about the training which milk tanker drivers receive as they are the ones who often find farmers in this situation was striking. I may have been angry in my last post but this just made it all too real, how common this story is…

Unacceptable.

It was difficult to feel positive about dairy farming on that farm, an old dairy farm which had been reconditioned and re-opened only 18 months ago. It will stay as a very strong reminder for us; every time we look at those vats. With the impending drought on our door step, how can we support those who grow our food to get through the hard times? What can we do differently? Hopefully paying out respects and sharing this story may help others to see the severity of this situation for many farming families.

Taking apart the dairy in Gippsland, a very somber day.

So thank you all again for the generous support you have shown us. We will get there.

Scott, this time it’s personal

“I want to ensure we can ensure the sustainability and viability of our dairy sector, but not doing that at a cost to mums and dads pouring milk on their cornflakes.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Outrageous!

A recent article in The Guardian ‘Drought and low milk prices push dairy farmers to the brink’ got me rather riled up. Not that I don’t find most of what our Prime Minister says offensive but this quote in particular felt like an attack on something very close to my heart; the true cost of food.

I grew up on a small hobby farm in North East Victoria. Thinking I was ‘to cool for the country’ I moved to Melbourne after high school where it didn’t take long before I found my passion in food politics and justice – access to quality food for all. I spent 8 years volunteering with Food not Bombs, working in and starting various food coops around the inner north and growing what I could in my backyard, but I knew my heart belonged to farming and set out to move back to the country and skill up.

Dairy became an obvious choice for me as I had to be working with animals and I wanted to see if it was possible to build a sustainable dairy industry.

Starting my internship at Sutton Grange Organic Farm ‘Holy Goat’ in 2013

Cost of food

I have always believed that access to nutritious food should not be a privilege reserved for the rich, however this should never come at the cost of someone else’s right to earn a living.

We are actually spending less on food now than we used to. Between 1960 and 2016 the percentage of income spent on food has dropped dramatically from 17% to 10% in America, Australia also sat at 10% in 2016.

What is food really worth? When shopping, we tend to make decisions based on a comparison, not absolute value assessment. Is this apple expensive compared to this other apple, rather than is this apple worth the price being asked.

There is one main factor which impacts the cost of food: the cost of labour. Care for people, care for animals and care for the land all take time. As produce gets cheaper, you can be sure that time invested in one, if not all, of these crucial elements has been sacrificed.

In the article mentioned above, they refer to a dairy farmer who calculated his hourly wage at $2.46. He was then quizzed by others how this was possible as they were making up to $10,000 loss a month! This is common across the agriculture industry. I would not think many are able to pay themselves minimum wage.

There are other factors at play here; farming has become industrialised, fewer and larger farmers, less owners and more staff, climate change, dependence on fossil fuel and environmentally problematic irrigation systems.

For most it’s become get big or get out, which always comes with a large infrastructure debt. However I also know that when humans get behind; financially, emotionally and physically, it becomes that much harder to ever get ahead. When your focus is on getting through the days, weeks, months ahead, it’s hard to think about the big picture of a more sustainable farming system which improves the land, animals and your life itself.

Agriculture may well be the biggest industry accelerating climate change and yet simultaneously represents some of the greatest opportunities to slow, and potentially reverse, the effects. I believe that if we are to support farmers to make changes on their farms which directly impact all our futures we need to start by valuing their work and not just financially.

Connection to food

Most of us humans don’t like to personally do wrong by people we know. It’s hard not to value food when you see how hard someone you know has worked to produce it. However the more we are disconnected from our food system, the more we make shopping choices based on what we feel like eating and price, without taking into consideration all the circumstances of people and land involved in the production. Participating in your food system gives value beyond a monetary exchange: regaining influence over how our land is managed, animals raised and ultimately the quality of the food you eat.

Connection with community at the farm open day 2018

Quality vs quantity

This is a place I often come back to; why do we eat? Is it to nourish ourselves or to simply fill the space in our stomach? Unfortunately we live in a time where all apples are not created equal, our fruit and vegetables have seen “reliable declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century.” This is largely due to soil depletion and breeding for size, growth rate, pest resistance and appearance. Supporting a farming movement which values soil above all and the diversity of that which grows above and below the ground is positively helping to improve the nutrient density of your food. So like with most things, the better the quality, the less you actually need.

The fact that you are reading this post means I’m probably preaching to the converted but ScoMo’s words really hit hard at the heart of our broken food system. So I dare him to look Berta in the eyes and tell her a litre of her milk is worth less than a minute of his time. I look forward to her throwing her head in the air and walking away. It sure took hours of time for people to raise her, grow and harvest feed for her, milk her, build and provide all the equipment for milking and bottling milk to sell to our community.

Don’t mess with Berta!

Thanks again to everyone who has been patiently waiting. We are still hoping for a late May/June launch and expecting to be selling milk at the market/farm-shop for $4.50/L and and pre-order subscriptions for $4/L. I intend to publish my income and expenditure when up and running for everyone to see the true costs of running a small scale farming enterprise.

Thanks again for everyone’s support.

Seeing the light

For a long time I have been dreaming about all the ins and outs of how this ‘future dairy’ is going to operate, when things are a long way off it’s easy to think big picture. Then we started building and milking, since then we mainly think about what needs doing today and this week. We’ve been heads down getting this business off the ground but this last week I’ve started thinking of the big picture again. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. As the year begun Oli decided that on his Birthday in May he want’s to sit back with the factory licensed, all systems go. The idea of telling the world so he’s accountable is starting to make him a little nervous as time progresses, but I think he’ll make it.

So this blog I’m going to give a photo update on how we’ve progressed. I know many people are ready and waiting for the milk to flow, soon, I promise!

The Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op received RDV Victorian Government funding which is supporting our shared infrastructure project and paid for the shinny, new, 110,000l water tank. Currently the farm all runs off irrigation water so having access to clean tank water is a necessity for the dairy factory.

Brendan installing the lean-to roof with the tank in the background

We were very grateful to have Brendan working with us at a crucial time after Oli’s accident to keep things moving along; putting up a wall on the shed for weather protection and the back lean-to for protection for all the process water systems.

Now we can protect at least some of our tools from the westerly storms.

We had Phil back on his excavator to finish off the greywater system and offer much needed help with the factory plumbing!

Before, during and completed greywater system

Jacques helped Oli installed the solar thermal panels on the cooler days. In a previous post Oli outlines the reasons behind using mainly second hand materials and some of the obstacles they pose.

When Oli cut and fitted all the dirty insulation(coolroom) panels, the inside of the processing factory became real. We both could finally feel what it will be like to stand in the room bottling milk! However using second hand insulation panels proved a nightmare, we are now experts in sanding and why certain specialist food grade paints are not appropriate for air spraying and why you should just hire an airless sprayer from the beginning.

Oli fitting the panels and testing equipment in the space.

Marty spent hours sanding the panels back to remove rust and marks. This panel was out of the shipping container wall where we installed the windows, Marty had to remove the many thick layers of paint from the external wall.

I’m not sure Marty’s smile really depicts his enjoyment of this job?

We then removed all the walls for painting. Then reinstalled them, being very careful not to scratch all the work we’d just done. Oli has now been installing all the coving, it’s feeling closer and closer now!

Rowan has been crafting the front entrance, with a team sanding back the doors from the tip to create our beautiful entrance!

I’ve been busy on the farm; fencing and learning just how hot the star picket rammer gets when left in the sun.

And my growing herd have been excitedly hoeing into the 4ths from Gung Hoe Growers and Tellurian Fruit Gardens. Farming in a diverse co-op is blooming marvelous!

Kale and silverbeet are very popular

Thank you to all these people and more who have been such an integral part of getting this business up and running. We’re getting so close now I can smell it! Thank you all for waiting patiently.