Fourteen years ago, city boy Chris Balazs left his busy life in Melbourne and immersed himself in the world of beef farming, just outside Geelong.
Four years ago, tired of the poor returns, Chris decided to take matters into their own hands and started a “paddock to plate” farming company.
Chris Balazs now runs Bannockburn’s own “Paddock To Plate” 100% Grass-fed Beef & Lamb, Sage Choice. No Grains. No Feedlots. A truly stress-free Environment. Truly free range ethical beef & lamb.
Sage’s philosophy is to connect consumers with where their food comes from, that's why we are transparent about what we do and how we do it, from the ethical farmers we partner with, to steps we take to ensure that our cattle are cared for – year round.
We caught up with Chris to hear more of his story.
What do you think is the best way for producers to engage with eaters?
This comes down to a quantity vs quality argument. If we want to engage with lots of people at one time nothing beats social media, Facebook or Instagram - it's a great way for farmers to get their produce and story in front of a large audience. But it's pretty much a one sided discussion. I far prefer to engage with customers - one on one - that's why farmers markets are so great. Nothing beats having a direct engaged conversation talking about our product, how it was produced and what's the best way to cook it.
If you had not decided to become a farmer, what would you be doing now?
I'd probably still be a corporate scientist in the biopharmaceutical sector, I always liked the challenge of the job and it afforded me the opportunity to travel and meet some wonderfully smart people. But in the end the 1000km a week commute and the stressful corporate lifestyle meant that I couldn't spend enough time with my daughters and the farm - the things that matter the most to me. So I made the move from Big Pharma to Little Farmer
What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out as a farmer?
Knowledge. Anyone with sufficient funds can buy a farm and hence become a "farmer", but to truly understand all the different production system and the nuances within them is difficult and time-consuming. I was fortunate that I had relatives that were in the farming industry and showed me the ropes - so to say. But they were from a conventional farming background - stock agents, sale yards, fertilising, backgrounding, feed lotting - all the practices that I am now opposed to. It is only in recent times that I have found my community of regenerative farmers that practice natural farming practices - or what I like to call traditional farming. I had started down this pathway myself - before I was connected in with the other farmers - who all share so generously - and now I'm certain that I am heading down the right path with the farm.
What do you do that is different or special?
I would say that our licensed on-farm butchery is quite special and sets us apart from most farmers producing their own product that are required to use third party butchers. Setting up a butchery and staffing it with wonderfully skilled and talented staff was a big and expensive challenge - but I love the fact that we have full control over our produce from paddock to plate. Butchery is becoming a lost art, and I am extremely fortunate that our head butcher Tim Woller has chosen to work for Sage. His skill and knowledge in whole body butchery is quite exceptional and allows us to provide artisan cuts that you just cant get at other butchers or supermarkets
How can we encourage more people to eat ethically/sustainably?
We need to be relentless in highlighting the various farming production systems - both good and bad. Once this is shown to people - and they understand the power of their daily spend on the world we live in - we will see the trickle of ethical sustainable consumers turn to a flood and then to a tsunami and finally to the norm. I'm very optimistic about this - everyday I see more and more people understanding how their steak ended up on their plate - and with that understanding they inevitably are choosing the ethical sustainable option.
If you could have one thing magically appear on your farm, what would it be?
A small scale market garden. We have plans for creating this as a next step of exploring all types of food production on Sage Farm - but if it could just magically appear - that would be amazing.
Where can people buy your food?
We really cater for the Geelong and Surf Coast Region. We have 8 local provedore stores that we stock and supply about 40% of our product to top end restaurants in the region such as Gladioli, Flying Brick Cider House and The Wharfshed. Though by far our preferred sales channels are our on Farm store and at VFMA farmers markets - Why? because we get to meet and converse with the end consumer which is where it feels like all the hard work is worthwhile.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to start producing food commercially?
Simple - join AFSA and the farmer branch the FFFU. This organisation is dedicated to connecting eaters to producers and vice versa and provide a community of like minded regenerative farmers to share knowledge, learn and grow.
What are your plans for the future?
We are always looking at new fun stuff to do. On our "to-do" list is a market garden, egg production, meat chicken production, hopefully pork, and we would love to expand our on-farm store to include a cafe and learning space.
Recipes inspired by Chris' produce
Want to meet Chris and learn to cook these amazing recipes?
Come along to our Farmer to Table cooking workshop!
This blog is a collaboration between the Social Food Project, Ian Parish Creative and Matt Houston Photography.