Melanda Park by Aaron Ward, George Papaioannou and Kelvin Shaw
From potatoes to pigs, that’s how farmers Matt and Sue Simmons have spent the last 13 years of their lives, on the farm that has been in Sue’s family for almost 100 years. Located in Ebenezer just outside of Sydney, Melanda Park began its life as a citrus farm, before floods; market crashes and ageing orchards gave way to cattle in the latter part of the last century.
In 2003 they started producing certified organic vegetables like potatoes and leafy greens and in keeping with organic farming principles they introduced pigs to the farm as a way to remove the excess waste and vegetables left behind and also to prepare the soil for the next round of planting. It was using these industrious animals to clean up the paddocks that inspired Matt and Sue to actually start breeding free range pigs as well as their organic vegetables.
The pigs are all free range and pasture raised and roam as they please, for 365 days of the year. They’re are able to dig for grubs and potatoes, wallow and interact with other pigs.
The pigs at Melanda Park fatten at a slower rate but have a much more flavoursome meat because of it.
We were fascinated at the speed of which the pigs grow and at the age they’re able to reproduce. After only 4 weeks a sow is able to give birth (farrow), having up to 10 piglets in a litter. The sows have special hutches designed with straw stoppers to farrow in as the 1 or 2kg piglets need to be protected from natural predators like eagles and foxes as well as their mothers.
When we first walked onto the farm I thought it was just about rearing a pig and sending them off to the abattoir but there is so much more. Matt and Sue constantly have to check the soils, check the PH levels, the hydration levels and continually throw seeds to grow grass, not just for the pigs to graze but to keep the neighbours happy with keeping the dust levels down. Having that strong base in a nutrient rich soil is a fundamental part to being able to rear a pig at such a high standard, as Matt and Sue have accomplished.
The Simmons have carved a niche in the industry by rearing suckling pigs, averaging a weight of 15-18kg at just 8 weeks old. Through their care and dedication to free range farming and a superior tasting product they have found their way into the Sydney fine dining restaurant scene. Their passion for what they are doing on the farm really shows in the pigs they produce and constant high standard of the farm they work.
At Melanda Park you can hear the wind coming up the valley, no pig squeals, the occasional barking Maltese terrier, but no stress and a relaxed feel. The open fields and paddocks where the pigs graze or lay in the hutches where they farrowed smell clean, like a farm, grassy green with a scent of manure, whipped up with the wind but an expected aroma of a farm.
We visited Melanda Park as part of the 2016 National Finalists Produce Tour of NSW.