Fork It Farm
SMALL FARM, BIG IMPACT: Daniel and Kim Croker, Fork It Farm, Lebrina, are passionate about supporting mindful consumption to ensure the future of local food production. IMAGE: Supplied
A CALL to action from farmers and consumers alike has emerged after new figures show about 70 per cent of pork products sold in Australia are imported. Never has it been more important to support locally-grown produce with Tassie's own Fork It Farm helping to lead the charge.
Small scale farmers Kim and Daniel Croker, proudly raise, slaughter and supply quality meat and artisanal products to Tasmanian consumers from their 45 hectare property at Lebrina. Now, with the help of Kim's sister Abbey Bell, the trio are working to produce and distribute nutritious, naturally grown food to friends, family and the community.
"We want to be part of the shift in the way food is produced and consumed. We believe local, ethical and sustainable farming benefits animals, consumers, farmers, communities and the earth," Kim said.
Running 12 Berkshire breeding sows (along with a small menagerie of cattle, sheep, ducks, geese, chickens and bees) on their Northern Tasmania property, Fork It Farm also grow many of the herbs and vegetables for their mouth-watering products. "Our goal is to produce ethical, flavourful, seasonal food for the local market. Over the past two years, we have developed our all-natural charcuterie range in our on-farm facility to utilise the whole animal," Daniel said. Fork It Farm are humbly paving the way for other small scale producers wanting to enter the industry by educating people about their 'paddock to plate' ethos.
"Our processes and products are curated to bring out the best in every cut of the animal, whether it's hot smoked bacon or the humble jowl - each element is important and out of respect to our animals, we give each piece of meat the time and respect it deserves." Practising 'whole animal' butchery means Kim and Daniel are utilising every part of the carcase and have designed their product range to ensure very little remains unused.
With a successful following, expanding their free-range pig operation may seem inevitable to some, however Kim and Daniel's holistic approach to farming means the longevity of their soil and pasture quality must take priority. "We endeavour to maintain minimum 60pc ground cover in the pig paddocks [and] the pigs are regularly rotated depending on the season and the stocking density."
After the drift are removed from a paddock, Kim and Daniel will run a tyre harrow over the paddock to level it out and spread the manure. "We use a cartwheel layout for our pig paddocks. This allows us to easily move stock from paddock to paddock via the centralised feeding areas," Kim said.
This type of regenerative agricultural practice allows for minimal soil disturbance through managed grazing and focuses on increasing biodiversity and building soil carbon, without the use of synthetic fertilisers. Although the herd is free-range, Kim and Daniel supplementary feed two formulated pelleted grain rations to ensure a balanced diet. The first is fed to their growers as needed and the second is given to their breeding stock in a ration.
"We also utilise 3000 litres per week of waste-stream milk to reduce our reliance on grain, which is fed out daily. Waste stream apple, pears, berry and cherries from local orchards are a daily treat and are a fantastic tool for moving pigs."
Focusing on eating quality and temperament, the pair pursued the use of Berkshire pigs and haven't looked back. "Berkshire pigs are super friendly and curious, and their calm, gentle nature makes them easy to work with. They are hardy and ideally suited to being free-ranged," Kim said.
"Berkshire pork is prized for its juiciness, flavour, and tenderness, the meat is pink-hued and heavily marbled. And its high fat content makes it more suitable for charcuterie production." Fork It Farm prefers not to follow a seasonal pattern, allowing the sows to produce all-year-round on a rotational joining pattern, and keep all piglets to a minimum of 140 days.
"Our two boars will have a sow with them for a six week period. Sows farrow in pairs within a farrowing paddock where they will share the mothering duties. They are provided with a shelter and barley straw bedding. Piglets stay with their mum for eight weeks."
The original Berkshire breeding stock for the farm was purchased from the mainland with Kim and Daniel preparing to source replacement boars again in the near future. While litter numbers can vary from six to 16, Fork It Farm average eight live piglets per farrowing with a mortality rate of around 10pc, turning off around 120 piglets per annum and selecting gilts for temperament.
Off the back of a generous wet season, the team at Fork It Farm will be hitting the ground running to prepare for the Christmas rush. "Due to our small size and the curing process we use - each ham takes one month to make - our hams are very limited," Kim said, adding pre-orders are available until sold out. "We are always creating new and exciting flavours and products, however we are very excited to soon be including a range of blood sausages to our offering."
Kim and Daniel's commitment to the environment extends to their production and distribution model with Fork It Farm using compostable and reusable packaging, waste minimisation and waste composting via biochar production. Processing around six pigs per fortnight to align with their market attendance and charcuterie production, Fork It Farm is a well-oiled machine.
Care and thoughtful consumption is at the heart of the Lebrina farm with Kim and Daniel looking forward to a bright future supported by mindful consumers.
"We have an open gate attitude. Opening our farm so customers can see for themselves how we say we farm, is how we farm. We hope to further expand our transparency by offering educational workshops - butchering, curing and cooking - at Fork it Farm in the near future."
*First published October 2021 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.