“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit." — Greek Proverb
Having made a good living in the corporate world, I arrived in Australia in January 2015 with firm plans to retire. A plan, it turns out, at which I was most unsuccessful.
Instead, life set me on a new path, guided by brilliant people, to unknown destinations.
But before we discuss destinations, we should have a look at beginnings.
In the spirit of retirement, I focussed on the things I always had a passion for, but never had the time or opportunity to pursue. One of them was food: specifically “good food”.
And that kick-started my quest to produce the best possible steak.
By 2016 I bought a hobby farm to try bring the highest quality meat to the Australian market, at a reasonable price. We tried Angus beef, we considered Shorthorns, but it was after I read an article on the consumption of older animals in Spain, that we found the winner: well-cared-for dairy cows. Though the meat was slightly tougher this could be easily remedied with optimal dry-ageing, resulting in superior taste.
Terms like “organic” and “free range, so indiscriminately bandied about. Unfortunately, a lack of proper regulation means “free range" is not as free as one would like.
I also learnt that people use water and fillers to increase yield, often because they are in the business only to maximise profit, rather than to produce a premium product.
For me it is all about the flavour and creating the best products in their most natural form.
Another fascinating aspect was the number of intermediaries between the cow on the field and steak on your plate, which could be as high as 12, each with their own profit margin.
I was convinced we could give better quality meat to consumers by reducing the number of intermediaries involved, using a more sustainable food source and interfering less with the product. An approach that guides all we do at CopperTree Farms.
A friend gave me Hughes’s book Family Wealth in which the planting of a copper beech tree is used as a metaphor for the long-term game that is wealth creation and preservation.
Planting a copper beech tree, which takes decades to mature, requires a certain kind of foresight and gumption. A young tree needs someone to look after it while it is vulnerable to the elements. And a fully grown tree will require protection against other threats, such as being taken down to make way for a new development.
In his book, Hughes tells the story of Marshal Lyautey, a notable French general. Looking out over his estate, he noticed he had no copper beech trees and asked his gardener why this was so. The gardener replied that they took a hundred and fifty years to grow.
Lyautey’s reply?, “Then we must plant today—we have no time to waste.”
But what does all this have to do with CopperTree? This approach to wealth creation is mirrored in our ethos. That investment in quality farming today will immeasurably aid us tomorrow.
A long-term, sustainable approach to food production does not undervalue the farmer’s contribution. This only leads to shortcuts and lower quality produce, which doesn’t work for us.
Hamish, who was responsible for giving me Hughes's book introduced me to the best dairy farmers in Australia, from whom we got retired Holstein Friesian dairy cattle. The more mature beef, properly dry-aged, resulted in the superior product that is now on the menus of the best restaurants across Australia.
In a short period, we have graduated to ancillary food production. Through the dairy farmers we gained access to unadulterated raw ingredients to make butter.
We also secured exclusive rights to what many regard as the best tasting chicken in the world: Poulet de Bresse.
And we supply Blackmore Wagyu, a perfectly marbled delicacy.
So, is this where the story ends? I don’t think so. I view it more as a pitstop on a continuous journey towards building a legacy of superior foods using traditional methods of farming and food production.