By Jen Barwick
Sophie Wakefield – one half of farm-gate meat supplier Wakefield Grange – starts her and husband Nathen’s story in the red dust and under the vast blue skies of Outback NSW. A long way from the lush green hills and coastal views of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula, where they now call home.
When consecutive years of drought, flooding rains and more drought finally forced them from their family property near Mildura; Sophie, Nathen and their three young girls sought a sea-change. Putting Nathen’s butchery trade to work, the couple bought a farm near Wattle Flat and started to sell their own meat under the label Wakefield Grange.
Fast forward two years. They have an established on-farm butchery and farmgate shop, supply more than 30 restaurants across the State and have attracted a loyal customer base for their Fleurieu-raised beef, pork, lamb and poultry (sourced from both the Barossa and Fleurieu).
“Everything happened so fast – initially we just wanted to start a small business that would cover the bills and keep us happy until we figure out the next move,” Sophie said.
“We wanted to take back control a bit, I guess… do what we love but be able to control the price and the message at the end.
“In traditional farming, it’s the middle-men who seem to get the best deal. Definitely not the farmers who give so much of themselves and are so reliant on not just nature but the agents, the buyers, meatworks… and ultimately get very little reward for their efforts.
“And it’s not just financial reward … getting that feedback about our meat and being able to talk directly with the people who are buying and enjoying our produce. That’s been a hugely rewarding part of this journey for both Nathen and I.”
The Wakefields have just returned from their first holiday in two years – time they used to catch their breath.
“It was a good opportunity to stop and go ‘hang on it’s only been two years’. We don’t have to break any land-speed records to achieve the next phase, we can step back and take stock a bit before we push on to bigger and better,” she said.
Those bigger and better plans include a blast chiller, smoking oven, curing and ageing room and eventually a commercial kitchen for their farmgate shop. Their on-farm stock is expanding as well, they’ve added beehives to the cattle, pigs, sheep and ducks this year. They’ve also grown the number of local farms who now supply to the Wakefield Grange brand.
The couple also plan to take advantage of their newly acquired skills in charcuterie and smallgood production. As recipients of a grant from the Food and Beverage Development Fund SA, Nathen and Sophie undertook smallgoods and charcuterie courses earlier this year at the Victor Churchill cooking school in Sydney. Nathen also did an advanced private butchery class, and Sophie a French cookery class.
Their plan is to offer a more diverse product line at their farmgate shop to further support their sustainable whole animal butchery philosophy. Wakefield Grange practise ‘whole animal’ butchery, which means they only process and accept orders for the whole carcass. A practice they believe is more ethical, sustainable and ensures minimal waste.
“As a result, we have had to pick and choose who we supply and say no to a lot of business because we wouldn’t just supply orders of 40 eye fillets, or 20 beef cheeks,” Sophie said.
“At the same time we’ve been extremely fortunate that we started this business just as restaurants and chefs really started to support the nose-to-tail dining message. There’s been a big lift in interest and willingness to look at and use secondary cuts and offal.
“The other big trend has been ‘traceability’. And it’s no longer just about where it comes from, but also how it was raised and killed. It’s not something we were really aware of in the beginning… but being small and farmgate has allowed us an opportunity to very clearly tell those stories and establish trust in the product.
“There’s definitely been a little ‘right place, right time, right story’ going on for us.”
Facebook has helped too. With more than 2000 followers, Sophie regularly updates customers with photos from the farm. Recent new developments include the arrival of 69 new solar panels, which will convert the farm to almost 100 per cent solar.
You can follow the Wakefield Grange story via their Facebook page.
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