I'm just finishing up my week here at Taranaki in Woodend, Victoria, Australia, about one hour away from Melbourne. This 400-acre farm was acquired in 1923 as a soldier block, after WWI, by Jack Faloon. Structured a little bit like the American Homestead Act, these tracts were given to returning soldiers if they actively farmed it for 20 years; at that time, a clear deed transferred to the farmer. Many were not successful, but Jack was, and passed it to his son John, who passed it to his son Stan, who has now passed it to his son Ben, who invited me in 2010 to come and do a workshop on the farm as part of a series developed by Darren Doherty and others of the RegenAg consortium.
At that time, Ben committed himself to on-farm poultry slaughter, but nearly 10 years later he's just getting through the regulations to make it happen. The farm was arbitrarily placed in what is called an Agriculture Conservation zone, which meant on 400 acres he could only have 2 cows and a couple of chickens. If a tree falls in the forest, he's prohibited from moving it. In true innovative renegade fashion, however, he has a portable sawmill that he can place over the log, astradle, and cut it up without moving it. The law does not prohibit moving boards. To say that Ben is a man after my own heart would be an understatement.
An early practitioner of P.A. Yeoman's Keyline water system, Ben built a series of small ponds to reduce flooding and slow the drainage. But the local water catchment authority prohibited him from using his own water for irrigation unless he metered it at $1,000 per pond and paid them for the use of the water. The zoning prohibited him from selling his own products in a farm shop. But he found a loophole: a Rural Produce Aggregation Center. So that's what it's called, although it looks like a farm shop.
Since 2011 Taranaki, like other pastured poultry farms in the state of Victoria, has been taking its chickens for processing to a licensed facility a couple of hours away. This ordeal involves hauling the chickens, coming home and switching vehicles, going back to pick up the birds and other logistics, all costing thousands of dollars. Last year, one of the two facilities in Victoria announced that it would no longer take birds from small independent producers, which meant everyone had to use the only one left. That's vulnerability on steroids. Ben knew he had to punch through getting his on-farm processing facility built.
A couple of months ago he launched a crowdfunding campaign and in one month 850 people dumped in $120 apiece to capitalize a micro-abattoir. Over the week, during a series of workshops, I've had the distinct privilege of processing the first chickens to go through the facility. It's simply an L of two small shipping containers converted to kill, scald, pick, eviscerate and package chickens under government approval. It's not fully licensed yet, but as Ben and I stood there today addressing 250 enthusiastic supporters of the crowdfunding campaign, with the freshly set structure beaming in the background, he and I were both overcome with emotion and tears flowed freely over emotional trauma engendered by such an ordeal.
It should be easy to bring the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker back to our communities, but during the few decades of industrialization that has replaced them, a bureaucratic tyranny developed to block entrepreneurial re-creation. As I think about our struggles at Polyface to be legal, both the battles we've fought and the things we still don't do because the fight is too hard, it's sobering to realize what a different integrity food system we could have were freedom encouraged rather than discriminated against.
Things are so bad here in Australia that Ben says they actually have a government agency called the Bureaucratic Intervention office. How about that? What a joy, though, to see him soldier on, developing a template that can be followed by other pastured poultry farmers desperate to chip away at the stranglehold of the industrial factory farming system. May the future be bright for Taranaki.
Does the U.S. need a Bureaucratic Intervention agency?