WWOOFing provides travellers a free education into food and, occasionally, a first step into life as a farmer. At Jonai Farms & Meatsmiths in Australia, a pair of one time WWOOFers now run their own farm and have taken this opportunity to teach the next generation all about ethical agriculture.
Tammi and Stuart Jonas, along with their three super bright kids, run a free range rare breed pig farm in Victoria. Stuart looks after their 100 Large Black pigs on the land, while Tammi takes care of the butchery and delivery side of the business.
‘My PhD was about sustainability in food consumption and production while I was also engaged with the fair food movement so I really wanted to hear Joel Salatin speak,” said Tammi. “He basically talked about how you can be a small producer and make a living. When we heard him say that it was like the penny dropped – we’ll be farmers!”
Nowadays, Tammi and Stuart spearhead a successful pig farm that prides itself on producing meat based upon ‘ethicuran’ methods. This means there are no hormones or antibiotics in the feed, no caging of the animals and no clipping of the pig’s tail.
You may think that this ethical approach should be the norm, but around the world industrial agricultural methods adhere to a much worse treatment of pigs. A simple Google search will leave you shocked.
“Pigs are the worst treated animals in industrial agriculture,” said Tammi. “Intensive piggeries have opted to confine the sows, in some systems for their whole lives, in other systems for four to six weeks. It’s done like this to prevent piglets from being squished and killed.”
The reality is that pigs can live a happy unsquished life where they roam around lush green paddocks that provide 20-25% of their nutritional requirements – just like they do at Jonai Farms.
The pigs can also have a diet free from controversial sources, which also makes them healthier and tastier. Jonai pigs get a mixed feed of spent grain from Holgate Brewhouse, milk from the next door dairy farm, second potatoes in winter and fruit in the summer. The Jonas’ finish their local diet with some home grown pumpkins and Jerusalem artichokes. About 30 per cent of their diet is from custom-made pellets of wheat, barley & lupins from a local feed supplier.
The care that Tammi and Stuart put into their farm isn’t exclusive for their pigs, anyone with an interest in local and ethical food is more than welcome to come by for a lesson in the good life.
“People nowadays want a deeper connection with their food and to know how it is grown,” said Tammi. “They want their food to be produced in a way that makes them comfortable eating it.”
This is clear to see with the boning room at Jonai Farms because it was completely crowd funded online, making them the first Australia farm to source funds from the public online.
Their target was $21,500 in 40 days, but by day 19 they had already reached their goal with an impressive amount of $27,500. Thanks to the internet, Tammi and Stuart have shown that ethical farms are both feasible and in demand.
“The internet is very much the future of small agriculture because it builds community, connects people to the farm and lets your supporters become you customers too. In return these supporters learn massive amounts of farming and that means the whole movement builds.”
Each week the farms sees waves of people pass through its gates, whether it’s for a salami workshop, a butchery master class, or visitors who are always welcome to go out and meet the happy pigs.
“We get tons of people who are interested to come and be part of this story – they can see what we’re doing and learn boning skills while they’re at it.”
Tammi and Stuart take the passing of knowledge very seriously and anyone who has spent time at Jonai Farms is guaranteed to leave with a huge amount of knowledge and skills – WWOOFers are no exception.
“Back in 1996 we WWOOFed for the first time on an organic ginger farm in Hawaii. We did it because we wanted to know more about farming and loved being on the land,” said Tammi.
“When we started Jonai Farms we wanted to make a place for WWOOFers so more people could have the experience which was quite impactful for us.”
The commitment to shape the next generation of farmers and connect the public to their food is something Stuart and Tammi do with passion and expertise. After too brief of a time spent at Jonai Farms, I still managed to leave realising that the Jonases (aka the Jonai), and not just their pigs, are certainly a rare breed indeed.