Lamb producers recognised with state gong

Keeping produce local is of high importance to those at Highfield Farm and Woodland, says Louise Freckelton.

Highfield Farm and Woodland’s Grass-fed Dorper Lamb has been judged to be a State Winner for Lamb in the 2020 Delicious Magazine Awards Paddock section, with judges deeming their produce to be of exceptional quality.

Louise Freckelton of Highfield Farm and Woodland said that the award has given them confidence and a real boost after the difficult start to the year, with “drought, and then fire, and then virus.”

Highfield Farm and Woodland, based at Mt Adrah near Adelong, combines small scale farming with the conservation of critically endangered habitat. Two-thirds of Highfield protects Box Gum Grassy Woodland, and the other third is farmed, raising Dorper Lamb, Dexter Beef and pasture-raised chicken and eggs.

Louise Freckelton and David Bray are both former city-dwelling foodies who moved to Mt Adrah over seven years ago from Sydney, deciding to raise sheep shortly after arriving.

When their Dorper Lamb was first nominated for the award by Chef friend Scott Clapham, Louise and David initially felt a bit overwhelmed.

“Because we were still sort of just getting over the fires (having been nominated in February), David and I just looked at each other and thought, ‘just one more thing to do’ to submit lamb because we were just exhausted,” Lousie said.

“We also thought that the Chef was just being very nice to us after the fire.”

After some consideration, and realising that “we never know when this might happen again”, the pair decided to fill out forms for the first round of judging.

The first round involved forms about their farming philosophy and what they do, and the second involved sending in actual samples of their lamb to be judged. The judging process was held up because of Covid-19, and Louise said that they “kind of dismissed it.”

“To then find out [we’d won] was just extraordinary really,” Louise said.

“We always thought our lamb was good but that was our own assessment, to have an independent assessment of it as being a really good product is just so encouraging.

“It just shows you that you don’t have to be a multi-generational farmer, and you don’t have to have done a degree in agriculture to produce great lamb.”

Louise also said they were honoured to be recognised alongside Moorlands Lamb based near Booroowa, who are very well-known for their lamb and have won in previous years.

In the next week or two, Louise and David will be submitting samples for the National Delicious Magazine Producers Award.

The pair are very much still in the recovery process at Highfield following last summer’s bushfires. Two thirds of their property burnt, with around half of their grazing lost. A shed of stockyard and nearly all fencing was also destroyed in the blaze.

“We’d been managing the pasture really well through the drought and were feeling really good that we’d managed to keep enough feed to feed the animals all the way through summer and autumn, but then we’d lost half the pasture,” Louise said.

Despite the damage done to their land, Louise has emphasised how lucky they feel in the grand scheme of things.

“We’re very very lucky; there were lives lost and there was livestock lost and sheds lost elsewhere, so we feel extremely lucky,” she said.

“So many of my friends down Yaven Creek Road just got smashed.”

Louise said that with a lot of tragedy and sadness around the region at the moment, she feels somewhat selfish celebrating this win.

However, she added that “if we can be an incredibly small part at putting this region on the food map to be considered equivalent to places like Orange, then that’s good for us all really.”

Highlighting the variety of what’s on offer across the Snowy Valleys is of high importance to Louise and David.

“There’s so much extraordinary produce in this region…cherries, and nuts, and apples, and so on,” Louise said.

“I think the whole region needs to be recognised as a really critical food area.”

A big part of their philosophy is keeping produce local, and Louise emphasised that no award would change this.

“We want to sell everything as locally as we can, because it keeps the food miles low and keeps the whole product a bit more environmentally conscious,” she said.

“So often regions like this, the food disappears. It goes up the highway or down the highway and local people don’t get to eat local food at all.

“[The award] won’t change what we do, because we think we’re doing the right thing farming wise.

“We’re not going to start racing off to Canberra or Sydney to sell our lamb, we’re going to keep it local.”

Louise and David extend their thanks to Wagga Chef Scott Clapham for nominating them, as well as local cafes and restaurants for their ongoing support – Nest Cafe and Courabyra Cellar Door in Tumbarumba, Mock Orange and Trail St in Wagga Wagga, Kats Whiskers in Tumut and other local events. They also said they could not do what they do without the support of local abattoirs such as Gundagai Meat Processors.

As for what’s next for Highfield, Louise said after the last five months, it’s hard to predict what might be in store around the corner. She said they’re planning to stick by their farming philosophy and continue with recovery efforts on the property, boosted in confidence by this recognition.