There are some quite remarkable people in this world and every so often one of them comes into my life. I first met Tammi Jonas, publiser of the blog Tammi Jonas: Food Ethics, at Eat Drink Blog 2011 and was able to get to know her a little better when she came to Adelaide for our version of the Australian national food bloggers conference, Eat Drink Blog 2012. Tammi is a food writer, food activist, food producer and cultural theorist close to the completion of a PhD examining the role of food and foodways in the development of a sustainable society – and a home butchering student.
From the very first time I met her, I was struck by Tammi’s friendly, genuine manner, easy laugh, open-mindedness, her quick, razor-sharp intellect and her utter commitment to her firmly-held beliefs. Tammi has made the journey from vegetarianism to meat-eating in the only way she has felt ethically able and as a result is now learning to butcher her own meat, cure it and is also sharing that knowledge with her Eat Your Ethics workshops. To further ensure the security of their own, personal food chain the Jonas’ (or Jonai, as they prefer to be known) have now launched a campaign through Pozible to fund the construction and licensing of a registered boning room on their own property. If that’s not conviction, I really don’t know what is. To learn more about this truly inspirational woman, read on …
While lots of us care about the provenance of our food, not too many are prepared to make such radical changes to their lives to ensure an ethical meal. Was the change from suburbia to Daylesford an evolving decision or more of an epiphany?
It came from a long-held desire to move to the country that one day happily collided with the realisation that we could make a modest living as farmers, all while still advocating for a fair and ethical food system. I grew up on a cattle ranch in Oregon, so country living was not only familiar to me, it’s my preferred natural state, and Stuart, though from generations of suburban dwellers, must have been a farmer in a former life – I call him ‘hypercompetent’, which is pretty useful as a farmer! We have always wanted to grow, cure, ferment and pickle more of our own food, and we can now do all of that while sharing our produce and our learning with loads of like-minded people. So what may have seemed radical to many people seemed totally logical to us.
You don’t use harmful chemicals or sprays and follow pretty traditional organic farming techniques, but have chosen not to seek organic accreditation. Why is that?
There are a number of reasons why we won’t be seeking any accreditation – neither organic nor free range – and I need to write more on this topic soon. In short, we work on a transparency model rather than an accreditation model. The people who buy our pork aren’t ‘buying from a stranger’, we deliver the pork directly to their door, or they pick it up from the farm, so they can see for themselves and have lengthy conversations with us about our systems, plus we’re now running the Eat Your Ethics workshops to share our practices with more people. Accreditation schemes are largely designed to give people confidence when they can’t/don’t know their producers.
We also cannot ensure that all of the grain we procure for the pigs is organic – it’s prohibitively expensive, and in drought years, unreliably available. Our primary focus is on ethical animal husbandry and good agroecological practices, and while we don’t use any synthetic inputs on the farm, some of the things we bring in from elsewhere will have come from such ‘conventional’ systems, though we’re working to reduce those external inputs. Free range, on the other hand, is a no brainer – we wouldn’t dream of putting our pigs into an intensive system, and could easily be certified if we wanted to be. But I’m pretty sure our twitter account, Instagram feed and website prove the point about the wonderful space our pigs have to wander, root and wallow! And if in doubt, just come visit and see for yourselves!
Why pigs? While you do have other livestock, pigs probably require the most intensive husbandry and management of all large farm beasts – so why did you choose them?
Kind of like the move to the country, pigs were the obvious choice for us, as they’re very clever animals kept in what we consider unconscionable conditions in intensive systems as a population increases its pork consumption on the back of those systems. Chooks were the other possibility as they’re the other most intensively raised animals, but frankly, I think we should stop eating chicken except for the once or twice a year when you kill the surplus roosters, which is how it was not that long ago. So while pigs are, as you say, a lot of work, they’re the most in need of an increase in ethical farming systems and lots of awareness raising to help people understand why it matters to choose free range.
Once you made your decisions, was it very difficult to educate yourselves in the various practices and how did you go about finding the supports – suppliers, information & buyers for your product – you needed?
We’re still educating ourselves every day! We’ve been the grateful beneficiaries of the knowledge of other free-range pig farmers who went before us, all of whom have been incredibly generous with their knowledge. We started with our four-month Road Trip USA trip in 2011, where we visited Polyface and a couple of other farms to learn about their systems, and then got lots of information and support from people like Anthony at Greenvale Farm, Fiona at Fernleigh Free Range, and Loz at Bundarra Berkshires. We’ve read a lot of books as well, and of course have learned the most just by doing! As for buyers, our sales started with the enthusiasm of friends and followers on twitter and the blogs, but have since broadened out to include a diverse set of people locally and in Melbourne who care about the treatment of animals raised for meat.
You have visited Joel Salatin’s inspirational Polyface Farm – what specifics did you bring home with you as a result of that?
Polyface was fantastic, and I detailed that visit in 2011. I brought home a few things – one is that Joel does what he says he does – his animals are raised in a great system that benefits the land. The vertical integration he does is inspiring – it’s also quite labour intensive. We certainly aren’t afraid of labour, but we need more hands on deck to run a system as diverse and demanding as his – we’d love to get there one day! But I also took home a stronger view that meat chickens just aren’t really sustainable, and don’t sit well with my ethics. Joel still runs meat chickens that have such large breasts and feeble legs (Americans don’t like thigh meat, silly buggers) that even though they’re out on the paddocks in an otherwise ethical system, my view is that the breed itself isn’t ethical – the poor birds can barely walk by the time they’re three or four weeks old. I think that’s inhumane breeding, personally, though I otherwise am a huge fan of Polyface’s systems.
You are now working towards the next logical step in your ethical meat journey – your own on-site boning room. Was this always part of the plan and (aside from funding it) what have been the largest obstacles you have encountered?
Our plans are always evolving as we discover the next challenge and work out the Jonai way to solve it (which typically means learn more and do more ourselves…). We hadn’t anticipated doing all our own butchering, though we’ve always hoped we would be able to do artisanal curing and fermenting once we were well established and could afford the prohibitive setup and auditing costs. We’d been told by all the small growers that butchering is always an issue, but didn’t fully understand the problem until it was ours as well. There is, quite simply, a shortage of skilled butchers around, and the good ones are running successful retail ventures in their own right and so have little time for private jobs like ours. We’re so lucky to have found Sal, our wonderful butcher in Ballan, who not only is very good at what he does, but is incredibly generous and willing to share his knowledge and skills with me so that we can do it on our own. But he won’t be able to keep up with our needs within a few months on top of his own thriving shop, and he doesn’t have the licence to cure either, and we’ve had issues finding someone else suitable for the curing side. So while some people may think setting up a boning room to do it ourselves is a fairly extreme response to the problem, it’s in keeping with our constant drive to do things ourselves, and to maintain total transparency about what we’re doing.
You are in the process of completing a Ph.D., have a partner and three children, pigs, chooks, cattle & sheep, open your farm to the public, are teaching yourself butchery, write several blogs and still work part-time. Do you have more hours in your day than I do?
Ha! I get asked that *a lot*. In fairness, I just quit my full-time job with the government so I can focus on the farm and finishing my PhD this year. Some of my time is created by having the amazing Jonai involved in everything together. The #orsmkids aren’t called that for no reason – they’ve taken on a lot of the domestic chores, including cooking up some delicious meals when Stuart and I are otherwise occupied, plus they tend the chooks and help out where they can with farm chores. Stuart never stops moving – the man is incredible at getting on with the job at hand, and is by far the primary labour force on the farm, doing all the feed procurement and feeding, as well as leading the infrastructure projects like the endless fencing… he also does all the laundry (except folding, which is the kids’ job).
And don’t tell my supervisor (actually he’s well aware of it), but I haven’t done much on the PhD in the last year, though that is changing as I have a target to write a full rough draft by the end of August… not having a tv helps with the time factor too, I guess, though I tend to think of that as time other people sacrifice rather than time I save. Oh, and I do also tend to be pretty energetic (and enthusiastic) by nature.
If you want to find out more about Tammi’s Boning Room Project or even support it check it out on Pozible here.
Image courtesy of and owned by Tammi Jonas.
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Well, my lovely readers, we are now counting the sleeps until the the third national Australian food bloggers conference, Eat Drink Blog 3, when 80 food bloggers will descend upon Adelaide to eat, drink, network and experience some of the very best of South Australian food and wine. Myself and the rest of the organising committee have worked our little fingers to the bone to present an event which, I think, will go a long way towards changing the face of food blogging in Australia.
When I was approached with this opportunity back in June I was very confident that our hard-working South Australian food and wine producers would see this for the astonishing opportunity that it is – and they have. The warmth and generosity with which they have embraced Eat Drink Blog 3 has meant that the event I had hoped South Australia would be able to present is now becoming a reality.
One ingredient which I knew would make our conference a seriously stand-out affair, but which initially seemed out of reach, was the presence of an internationally noted food writing coach with whom I happened to have had a few conversations over the last 12 months. However, thanks to the support of the wonderful team at South Australian Tourism Commission, that goal suddenly became achievable and Dianne Jacob – author of Will Write For Food – will be conducting a writing workshop here in Adelaide on Saturday and delivering the keynote address at Eat Drink Blog 3 on Sunday!
I know many will miss out on hearing Dianne speak, so here is a brief interview with our star attraction and a chance for you to get to know her just a little.
Q. Dianne, you started your career as a journalist, editor and writer – what led you down the path of coaching – in particular food-writing coaching?
A. As an editor, I had always worked with writers when assigning and editing their stories, so it seemed natural to continue when I chose self-employment more than a decade ago. Little did I know that I would also help people start blogs, write cookbook proposals, edit cookbooks, help new authors go through the publishing process, and edit manuscripts. There’s never a moment to get bored. About 15 years ago, I returned to writing about food and began teaching food writing classes, so concentrating on food writers was a natural extension of my business.
Q. Your book “Will Write for Food” is pretty much the food bloggers bible these days. What are your impressions on how food blogging has changed over the last five years – both for writers and readers?
A. That’s the subject of my keynote, so I don’t want to give it all away! The most significant change is the power that food bloggers wield today. Those at the top have millions of subscribers, some have a way to make a living through advertising, and dozens have book deals. Some are sought after by food companies and restaurants. These developments weren’t possible five years ago, when food bloggers were still thought of as inferior to print writers.
Q. Traditional book publishing is said to be in a precarious state, but still many food bloggers hope to have a book of their own recipes one day. Could you share your thoughts on the merits of self-publishing traditional books and ebooks?
A. With self-published books, you can control over every aspect, from the cover to the content to even the type of paper, if that’s your thing. And when you sell your own books, you get all the income.
Regarding e-books, they are inexpensive to produce and have a very short production cycle. If you have a big enough blog audience and know how to promote, decent income may result.
Q. What would you say are the most pressing issues that food bloggers face at the moment, or that may become problems for them in the future?
A. Most bloggers struggle with having enough time to post regularly. Food blogging can be a lot of work if you most of your posts involve creating a recipe, photographing the dish and process, and then writing about your experience. Then there are all the technical aspects to keep up with, the social media time commitment (or should I say interruptions and irresistible time sinks?), and the constant pressure to build visibility by getting the word out.
Q. The popularity of food blogging continues to grow here in Australia and the US. What do you think the future holds for this form of media?
A. I hope blogger software will get easier for people. Right now it is still difficult to move RSS feeds and deal with technical issues that most of us have no idea how to resolve.
Q. Which three skills do you see as most necessary for a blogger to be credible and successful?
A. They need to be excellent storytellers, gorgeous photographers, and relentless marketers.
So – after that teaser, I’m off to help put the finishing touches to what is shaping up to be a great weekend folks!
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There’s an old song by Perry Como called “Seattle”, where he sings of the the bluest skies he’s ever seen as being in Seattle. I’m not sure if Perry “did” irony, because Seattle is famous for being very wet and rainy, but there was certainly no hint of blue skies in the four days we were there. Our flight from Vancouver was delayed for over two hours because of a snow storm in Seattle and when we finally landed there it was in almost totally white conditions after one of the biggest snow dumps they had seen in ten years. The cab ride into town was quite hairy and every now and then we could feel the wheels slipping beneath us on the ice and snow which covered the roads. Once in the city, any attempts to wander around and explore were pretty well useless for the first two days. The sidewalks were treacherously slippery with ice and snow inches thick on them. Many buses were not running as, even with chains, the hills were too icy for them and cabs were like hens teeth. Even if we had been able to venture very far away from the hotel, there was little point. Most of the museums, markets and city stores were closed or had shortened their opening hours because their staff were stuck at home, so our first couple of days were very quiet and restful indeed – not altogether a bad thing.
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I’m lifting this idea for a post from my friend Celia, over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. She’s far more organised than me and does a monthly post on interesting happenings in her kitchen. I’m not sure that I can promise to have a fascinating kitchen on a monthly basis, but there are one or two things in there at the moment I thought I might share with you this week. I’m beginning with the sunset on Monday (2 January) evening. While technically not actually in my kitchen, it can be seen in all it’s glory from my big kitchen windows so I’m pretty sure it counts. I took this shot with my DSLR on manual and did no post processing at all – so you can see that the camera class I took seems to have paid off somewhat.
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The wintry weather always brings out the baker in me. Admittedly, the baker in me doesn’t lurk too far below the the surface and needs very little encouragement to come bouncing forth, wooden spoon in hand and frequently with chocolate in mind. Having a slow combustion stove continuously glowing and quietly waiting in the corner of the kitchen all through the winter does nothing to help restrain these compulsions and neither does the regular skimming of some of the seriously enticing food blogs that hover just a click away from my fingers. Some months ago I introduced you to some of my favourite food blogs but this is a moveable feast and there are plenty more where they came from. This week I thought I might share with you a few of the blogs that I turn to when I feel that chocolate or cake are about to figure in my future.
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Writing this food blog has given me the perfect excuse to spend intemperate amounts of time reading about food, eating it and indulging my curiosity about where it came from by asking inquisitive and prying questions of producers, chefs, marketers and growers. Burying my nose in cookbooks for hours at a time, sometimes resulting in a lack of time to actually cook a family meal has become an occasional blogging occupational necessity. Blogging has also gone some way towards validating the hours I happily spend trawling around in markets, food shops, kitchenware stores and book shops. And it has made me fat (ter). It appears that the hours I spend online wandering from one delicious food site or blog to the next have had some unanticipated affect on my mid-section and lower torso, causing them to expand and lose tone and strength. It took some time for me to realise this had happened and, as we all know, once this kind of damage has occurred it is an extremely testing matter to reverse it.
Clearly, this is not my fault and I feel it is time to lay the blame squarely where it belongs. I want to make use of this post to name and shame some of the exceptionally engaging and informative blog sites who have grasped my attention and contributed to the downfall of my girlish figure! There are so many blogs that I visit and read that it would be impractical to list them all. I have whittled it down to five that I really enjoy, but there are plenty of others out there in the ether who bear their share of responsibility for my waistline, too!