Set in Ebenezer NSW, Melanda Park is no ordinary Australian farm. Despite being a group of young city dwellers wanting to know more about the lives of our bacon, Matt and his partner Sue could not have been more welcoming. There was no suspicion about our many cameras and questions. Instead we were met with the enthusiasm of a family that clearly loved and believed in what they were doing, that knew they were on the right track. This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realise that many modern Australian farmers are struggling economically.
Melanda Park is home to more than just pigs. The pigs “fertilise” paddocks that then naturally nourish sorghum, organic potatoes and kale. Chickens roam the property too, barely noticing us as they peck away on the plentiful grass they have access to. The pigs are all slightly different too, which unlike in an intensive operation which demands consistency, Matt and Sue have a range of breeds. You can hear the fondness in Matt’s voice when he tells us the humble pig has got the most personality, and the enthusiasm when he tells us the differences between the breeds and how they they change when they grow up.
You can tell that “free range” means much more than a label to the Melanda Park crew. As well as having plenty of room to roam, the shade cloths, mud baths and specially designed pig huts have all been thoughtfully provided to make the pigs at home. Even the huts have a specially designed bar for the Mummy pigs to lean against so she doesn’t crush her piglets while taking a bit of a breather. Each pig enjoys substantially more time soaking up the beautiful surrounds too, compared to their intensively farmed counterparts. This isn’t just a nicety but contributes to a more rich, flavoursome meat.
Biodiversity is also clearly important at Melanda Park. It’s all part of the farm’s holistic, self sufficient approach that values long term health of the soil, animals and people. When we excitedly point out a pair of hawks (we think – they were actually sea eagles) hovering overhead, Matt informs us that because the pigs and their feed are outside, the local native quail sneak off with the leftovers, providing target practice for birds of prey. In contrast, intensive systems keep everything indoors.
We keep prodding: why do intensive farms stay their current unsustainable course, creating increasingly famous poo lagoons, when they could be making friends with local native quail? Surprisingly, Matt does not bag out his fellow farmers, and explains that many believe they have to “go big or go home,” then get into financial circumstances that would make the best of us feel like we have no recourse but to grow even bigger. Once the soil is degraded, it can seem like the only option is to get more intensive with a cocktail of synthetic chemicals, most of which are derived from fossil fuels.
As further demonstration of the farm’s natural, closed loop system approach, Matt asks if we’d like to see the pigs get their “vitamin supplement” for the day. Courtesy of local supermarkets, the pigs get to mop up the food waste that would otherwise be another cost to retailers for disposal. As Matt approaches with a literal truckload of fruit and vegetable scraps, you can hear the enthusiastic patter of piggies – they can smell watermelon, apparently a favourite. Hearing the happy grunts of our porky friends, we start to get a little hungry ourselves, and the conversation quickly turns to something we’re a little more expert at: eating.
Matt is a firm believer that fat has been overly demonised in the meat industry. When asked what he wishes consumers could change about their preferences at the store, it is the obsession with “lean” meat that comes to mind first. Price too is a huge concern, and while we all concede that not everyone can always afford to buy sustainably, we also agree that many consumers could be placing a much higher value on quality food, grown with respect for the animal and the land.
As we say our thank yous and goodbyes, the sunset leaves the property glowing, in more ways than one. Being able to see the farm for ourselves and have an honest conversation with the family that is trying to do right by the world has been incredibly uplifting. If we knew that we didn’t support intensive factory farms before our visit, we could now confidently say what farming we could and would support instead.
Find out where you can find Melanda Park pork near you.
Want to find out more about where your meat comes from? Check out our beefjam series.
Photos by Alecia Wood
Words by Zo Zhou