Hughen McConaghy had his realisation about the importance of growing local food and ecosystems in remote Northern Territory communities. At the time he was developing a new approach to education (and health) in 17 aboriginal communities as a teacher and eventually headmaster. Through developing what he called “constructive learning environments”, he was able to teach English and literacy through building vegetable gardens. The kids and the community learnt while making money and stocking the store. For this (literally) ground-breaking work he was awarded “Northern Territorian of the year”.
Soon after this award, his parents rang him in Alice Springs to tell him that they were about to put their Meringo Creek property on the market. That is, unless Hughen was interested in the farm. A change from the tough conditions of central Australia was too good to refuse, so Hughen and Zoe sold their Alice Springs house and moved to the coast. That was 14 years ago, and for most of that time Hughen has been putting his mind to the (often conflicting) ideals of making a living from raising ethically managed pastured meat.
The conventional way to make a living out of livestock is to breed, feed and then sell through the saleyard system. Your stock are sold at the prevailing market price, slaughtered somewhere, and sold somewhere else. Meringo Creek Farm to Plate is smaller than the average grazing property and so the economics were always going to be difficult. “Since beginning to sell at the SAGE Farmers Market, we can pay the bills and get by,” said Hughen. “Before that we were on the verge of moving on.”
Meringo Creek Farm to Plate grows Boer goats, Red Angus cattle and Dorper sheep. These are rotated around the property on the lush pasture. A few weeks before slaughter, they are given access to some “finishing” supplements including clover, lucerne, and cracked lupin.
The animals are cared for from the moment they are born until their final journey up the road to the Moruya abattoir. As herd animals, they get stressed if they are alone, so they always have a companion animal with them on that journey.
Hughen believes that a healthy, low stress life leads to a better product. He sells his Dorper sheep as “hogget” rather than “lamb”. The animals are slightly older at this stage and have, Hughen believes, a better flavour. His lucky customers agree, and their feedback is one of the strong factors that keep him doing what he loves.
“Both farmers and consumers can have confidence in the SAGE markets because of the rules and commitment to authenticity,” he said. “I particularly love the e-market because I can pre-wrap my orders and serve customers more efficiently.”
The philosophy of Meringo Creek Farm to Plate is to give back as much as you take. “We have always believed in treating our property and animals the right way,” said Hughen. “Hopefully that comes through in our products.”