A delicious tree change
Growing up in coastal New South Wales, Fiona May craved life in the country, so when it was time to leave the family home, she moved to Scone. This is where she met Stuart, her husband.
They relocated north to Toowoomba and stayed on a dairy farm, owned by her sister-in-law and husband. Enjoying the farm work experience, Fiona and her husband bought a small property nearby. Along the way they had children and acquired “a few chooks, a few lambs, a couple of beefys, pigs and a retired cow from the dairy.”
Inspired by Tasmin Carven who hosts lunches and workshops using farm produce and the book Seasons in my Kitchen Garden, she decided to start a farm business. She also studied farms like Jonai Farms & Meatsmiths, Bundarra Berkshires, Autumn Farm and McIvor Farm Foods.
“It just made sense to create a business and life I loved here on-farm,” said Fiona. “So I opened our farm gates to the community.”
She hosted birthday parties, farm tours and invited schools, yet because she was scared of confronting people, she would avoid talking about the animals’ end. This didn’t sit right with her so she closed the gates.
After a break, she decided to focus on teaching people where real food comes from. From Paddock to Potager was once again open for business – for farm tours, workshops, after school homestead lessons, paddock to plate school education, school/groups tours, wholesale pork for restaurants and a community supported agriculture (CSA) scheme.
Paddock to plate
Members of the CSA invest in a ‘share’ of the ‘harvest’ at the beginning of the term. The return is a full or side of a pig, depending upon the size of investment. Along the way, members are enlightened about how their pig is grown, slaughtered and butchered. They receive a free farm tour, a discount for on-farm workshops and monthly emails.
Fiona feeds her small herd a mix of locally sourced grain daily, along with surplus fruit and vegetables on occasion, and surplus milk from the house cow for the lactating sow (female pig for breeding) and piglets. The pigs are regularly rotated; when they leave the paddock, rye is planted.
The sows run with their boar (male pig over six months old for breeding) until one month from farrowing (giving birth). The pigs farrow in the paddocks, close to the house so Fiona can observe and assist if required. The suckers (pig between birth and weaning) are on their mother for five weeks then are weaned (permanent separation of a sow and suckers) in another paddock. At eight weeks, they are transported to a larger property, owned by a 70-year-old farmer named Gordon, Fiona’s mentor. He grows them out until they are seven months old.
Next, the pigs are slaughtered at the local abattoir and the carcass is sent to the local butcher. This is where the CSA members pick up their pork.
Eat less meat
While she raises animals for food, Fiona would like to see people reducing their meat consumption. She reasons that if people ate less meat they could afford better quality, there would be less demand for intensive farming and small ethical farms would multiply and thrive. It’s also a sign of respect for the animals, she says.
“Remember how chicken was once a delicacy? Now it’s $10 from Woolies and who knows where it’s come from or how it was reared,” says Fiona. “Bet no love has gone into the bird.”
“I’m proud I have created a business and life I love where I have the privilege to eat incredible food, gain a sense of accomplishment and meet absolutely inspiring individuals which makes the hard work easier,” says Fiona.
Now content, she would like to see similar small farms like hers nearby.
“In my wildest dreams I could swap pork with a mate down the road who had grass fed beef, or I could sell my raw milk, eggs that still have a little bit of chook shit on them, and really give people the real farm experience!” she said.
In her spare time she founded Toowomba Farmers’ Market, assisted by a volunteer committee. The inaugural market was held at her property, with 60 stalls and 4 600 visitors.
The demand for real food is insatiable.
By providing this, and joining the dots for children and the greater community, it won’t be too long before Fiona makes her dream come true.
Visit From Paddock to Potager