A stonemason from the south of Italy, Luigi now relishes his new career in agriculture
growing organic food. Together with his wife Nidya, they started a business that would
encompass all their passions while ensuring it kept the family at the heart of it. Both
permaculturists, the business uses permaculture ethics of people care, fair share, and self-care as their foundation. The Patch Organics, based in Bellingen is a business with four pillars, a commercial market garden, an organic poultry farm, and an education centre and now they’ve recently launched, a hunting enterprise.
So where does hunting come in? Surprisingly enough it came from asking the question, “Should we reduce our meat intake for the environment?” Both Nidya and Luigi come from strong meat-eating cultures as well as being very environmentally conscious. In their daily lives they felt like they did all the right things to reduce their carbon footprint – they brought their own containers and keep cups everywhere, never used plastics, composted, rode bikes, but every time they would pull another meat cut from the freezer for their dinner it was like inviting the elephant into the room to eat with them.
They tried to reduce the amount of meat they consumed, bought cookbooks to increase their “salad” repertoire and tried a few vegan recipes, but with Luigi’s extremely high metabolism and very active work life, they quickly started to see the grocery bills increase by trying to keep him “fuelled up”. So they deep dived into the “environmental problem” to try and find a solution that worked for them and quickly realised that the problem was not the animals themselves but the system in which they were a part of. The industrialised food system spat out bigger problems than what it was “solving”. How we farm animals on the land creates huge soil erosion and degradation issues, how we fatten them up creates huge health issues, how we kill them creates huge animal welfare and environmental issues, how we truck them from A to B causes huge environmental issues and how we consume them – but more specifically what we consume and don’t consume causes huge wastage issues.
So if the system was the problem, how do we bypass it? And that is where hunting comes in. Australia has an abundance of introduced pest species that are roaming wild and free, are causing huge environmental issues and are also great eating. The wild pig population currently outcompetes the human population in Australia. The annual rate of population growth for rabbits is 206%. Feral goats threaten the biodiversity of our native animals and plants. Our government frequently spends a lot of time and money on population control programs to manage these pests but has already deemed eradication impossible for many.
So with this new knowledge, the couple spent the last few years acquiring new licenses, skills and experiences and now frequently have an array of diverse meat in their freezer, supplemented with their organic and free ranged chicken as well as grass fed and grass finished organic beef from Bello Beef, all grown on certified organic pastures of Levenvale Farm. Nidya explains, “In many ways that initial question of how we can be more conscious eaters set us up to take this journey into being primary producers. We always loved good food, but then we started asking ourselves the question, what makes it good? And good for who? And here we are, we are now growing our own truly good food, and if we can’t grow it, we hunt it!”
They started the journey together, learning how to hunt, butcher, cook and have learnt to highly appreciate the under-valued abundance right in their back yards. Understanding the hard work involved in harvesting and butchering an animal, they are very passionate about saving and eating as much of the animal as they can, frequently serving nose to tail dishes as their everyday fair. They bypass the feedlots, the large factory farms, the environmental and animal welfare issues while helping farmers get rid of a pest problem. And now they want to pass on their skills to more families like themselves.
“I used to think we were on the extreme end of a spectrum, where the other extreme was veganism – both trying to solve a huge problem in our own way. But the more we’ve normalised this, the more I realise that we shouldn’t be seen as extreme. Hunting for your food and being able to sustain yourself, acquire delicious, nutritious quality meat, and know exactly where your food comes from and what it took to fill that freezer – well, more people should do it. This should be normal” states Nidya.
The couple are now offering a 6-month mentorship program for people who want to start their own journey in hunting and self-resiliency. “When I first started out, it was very hard for me to find good mentors. We joined the hunting associations as was required and met a few people there, but we found that many seasoned hunters were quite competitive of their spots – nobody really wanted to share, especially with new people coming through. I tried many times to team up with experienced hunters that I could learn from, but it was really very hard to find like-minded people. That’s why I want to give others what I didn’t have” Luigi proudly shares with a thick Italian accent.
As Luigi calls it, the term is “ethical hunter” a person who is respectful of themselves, the land and animals and the community around. “Hunting gets a bad reputation as a lot of people think it’s just shooting animals for fun. They call it recreational hunting, but there’s nothing recreational about it – it’s hard work. firing the weapon is just the beginning, then you need to bag the animal and hike it out and bring it home, and then it’s one- or two-days of butchering and processing it. The more you want to do, the longer it takes. And we do it for our families, to put food on the table and to know that our meat consumption is in some way improving the environment instead of continuing to degrade it.”
Luigi’s enthusiasm and passion are contagious, and you can hear him speak at The Bellingen Plant Fair on the 11th March at 12pm, as he shares his journey on stage.
To learn more about their farm and their upcoming hunting mentorship program, visit their website https://www.levenvalefarm.com.au/the-patch-organics