October 26th, 2020Simple life and ethical farming
Bordering the hamlet of Glenlyon on Dja Dja Wurrung land they work in a way that Bohdan calls scale-appropriate. Put simply, that means never taking more than the land can provide, without the need for synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.
“When we took custodianship of the land two years ago there was absolutely no infrastructure except for two dams,” says Bohdan. “The rest of the 50-acre block (20 hectares) was divided between empty paddocks and regrowth eucalyptus forest. But one of the big reasons we chose to jump onto a bare canvas was to be off-grid. In order to do that you’ve got to rip the band-aid off and get away from all the services just given to you when you buy an established property.”
Today they have achieved their off-grid goal with the entire place run off solar including the house, sheds and pumps. Not bad in an area noted more for its rain and cloud than regular sun.
After two years on their block they have only had to use the back-up diesel generator once. And that was only for about 12 hours to recharge their batteries after a particularly lengthy run of grey days.
The number of small-scale farmers working in a regenerative ethical manner is growing and our region is a hotspot. The Central Highlands has a gourmet food culture, healthy soil and temperate conditions making it a desirable place to produce and sell niche market goods. Catherine Farm is a perfect example of the trend specialising in just two main products, free-range pork and eggs.
Catherine and Bohdan run around 30 pasture-raised pigs producing 100 per cent chemical-free pork and the hogs eat a balanced diet completely derived from waste stream food. This means that more than 20 tonnes of perfectly good fodder, normally destined for landfill, is diverted. Taking this waste from nearby businesses such as Shedshaker Brewing in Castlemaine and Honest Eggs in Yandoit helps keep the food production local.
While they are required to process the pigs in Laverton, the carcasses are returned to Jonai Farm, Eganstown for the on-farm butcher to prepare the cuts for sale.
Catherine Farm’s customers have the option of purchasing 5kg and 10kg pork packs which include nitrate- and gluten-free sausages, bacon and a range of cuts such as coppa steaks, sirloin, roast and mince just to name a few. With prices starting from $135 for the 5kg pack it is great value for a selection of premium free-range meat with larger quantities for share options available.
“We try to utilise what we can from the area because a big part of our philosophy is centred around reducing food miles whenever possible. Our local customers like to know not only exactly where their food is coming from but also the quality and care that has gone into the whole process.”
Free-range eggs make up the other half of Catherine Farm’s production. They have about 400 chooks roaming around the block serving as a dual purpose animal, providing eggs of course but also supplying the paddocks with fertiliser. Today the chickens roost in two A-frame style mobile sheds that are constantly in transit from one spot to another. However, taking pride of place among the chicken, pigs and humans is an old freezer van truck which served as the family’s first chook tractor, as Bohdan explains.
“The truck was the first coop we started with. We could drive it around to move the hens. In fact all the animals get moved once a week. It reduces stress on the ground and reduces worms and parasites in the animals.”
On its side is a colourful mural with the words moa + fo’imoa painted in the middle. The phrase is a nod to Catherine’s Tongan heritage and translates as chicken plus egg.
Chicken may very well equal egg, but egg plus pork also equals a secure place for Catherine Farm on the food map of the Central Highlands region. This comes via their healthy farm gate sales, regular customers through their Facebook page, support from Harvest Cafe, Spade to Blade Catering, The Surly Goat and the many customers visiting their stall at the Glenlyon Market every third Saturday of the month. Oh yes, Catherine is a sweet tooth and loves to bake so their stall is also loaded with vegan/GF brownies, cupcakes, cookies and slices as well.
Words: Tony Sawrey | Image: David White