Free-range pork farmers Matt and Sue Simmons of Melanda Park stumbled into pig farming rather by accident. The duo, along with their family, now respectfully produce and supply high-quality pork to butchers and restaurants across the greater Sydney area – including Martin Boetz’s Cooks Co-op. We caught up with Matt to hear a bit about their story and the farming practices at Melanda Park.
Your property has been in the family for years, but wasn’t always a pig farm. Can you tell us a bit about the history of the farm?
"The farm has been in the family for almost 100 years. Sue’s grandfather farmed citrus here up until the 90s. Sue and I started farming organic potatoes a few years after that. Our four children are now fifth generation on the farm."
So, what did you do before Melanda Park was born? And how did you get into farming pigs?
"Sue and I both completed an apprenticeship after school, Sue as a chef and I did maintenance fitting. We took over the farm in early 2001 and we started growing organic vegetables and gourmet potatoes. The potatoes proved hard to control organically so we employed a team of free-range pigs. They did a fantastic job of removing unwanted spuds from the paddock and at the same time controlling weeds and leaving behind valuable manure. It wasn’t long before a few pigs had multiplied into an army, and we soon had pigs to sell. Our pork market was born!"
Do you have a farming philosophy?
"We believe that working with nature is the best way to produce happy, healthy food. Starting from the ground up, healthy soils grow healthy plants, which feed healthy livestock and in turn makes for healthy people. Life should be treated with humanity and respect, and marketed with honesty and integrity."
What breed of pigs do you farm, and why?
"Our sows are a mix of Large White and Landrace with a small percentage of Heritage pig to bring back the old fashion flavor of pork roast – with a little more fat than what’s found on our modern pigs."
A lot of city folk expect pig farms to have a strong smell (such as what occurs in intensive pig farming). This isn’t the case at Melanda Park – why is this?
"The pigs are spread out enough to prevent an accumulation of manure. Manure smells if it’s allowed to accumulate, regardless of the animal. It’s all about the environment the pigs live in. Keep the environment clean and the pigs will stay clean."
We often hear chefs, including Martin Boetz of Cooks Co-op, speak about how male and female pork have a different flavour. Can you shine any light on the reason why?
"When a male pig reaches sexual maturity, the hormones in the pig produce a thing called 'boar taint'. This taint stains the meat and gives it a bad flavour. Male pigs in our system are used as spit pigs long before they develop the hormones that produce boar taint. Only female pigs are kept to continue to grow into the size pig we use for butchering. This guarantees a cleaner, sweeter, better tasting piece of meat."
What sustainable farming practices do you adopt at Melanda Park?
"Sustainable farming is all about reusing and recycling as much as we can in our production system, without overloading the environment with waste to the point where the natural environmental process no longer copes. Free-range farming is about a good rotation from paddock to paddock, while using the nutrients left behind from the pigs to grow plants – either vegetables or fodder crops to feed cattle. A good pig rotation requires no extra inputs of fertiliser to grow a crop. After the crop is harvested the pigs can then be returned to a clean paddock to start the process again."