Keep­ing a dream alive

Jon­s­son fam­ily con­fi­dent they will build their own abat­toir

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - News - . AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

SHE has fought banks, nav­i­gated through a web of govern­ment de­part­ments and even sur­vived a quadru­ple by­pass – but the hard­est thing Kerry Jonn­son has ever had to do was ask for help.

In 2015 the Ru­ral Weekly re­ported on the Jonn­son fam­ily, own­ers of Jer­voise Or­ganic Meats, and their crowd-fund­ing cam­paign to save their busi­ness.

Com­ing off the back of four years of drought, the fam­ily was de­liv­ered a tough blow when they lost their abat­toir in a com­pul­sory govern­ment land ac­qui­si­tion of their block in Tully.

See­ing their long-term busi­ness plan col­lapse, Kerry agreed to launch a crowd-fund­ing cam­paign to raise money so they could build their own abat­toir on their sta­tion.

They saw it as the only way for­ward.

She now de­scribes the process of shar­ing their story and ask­ing for do­na­tions as like “bear­ing her soul to the pub­lic”.

She said the pas­toral­ist fam­ily mem­bers were pri­vate peo­ple and it went against their na­ture to ask for a hand­out.

The cam­paign failed to raise the $250,000 needed, but aware­ness through the ini­tia­tive opened up enough doors for them to bat­tle on.

The or­ganic busi­ness, which grows out cat­tle at Jer­voise Sta­tion near Green­vale in Far North Queens­land, is cur­rently pro­cess­ing their beef through a meat­works at Clare – which is about a five-and-a-half hour trip from their prop­erty, cost­ing them time and money.

How­ever, the fam­ily’s dream of hav­ing their own abat­toir on Jer­voise is still alive.

“I have the steel ready and the plans drawn up,” Kerry said.

“The crowd-fund­ing cov­ered the cost of the plans, that was $23,000 to get the plans drawn. We are as ready as we can be, we are just wait­ing for the last box to be ticked.”

That last box is a chal­lenge, as it in­volves get­ting their prop­erty free­holded.

“The final hur­dle is with the na­tive ti­tle. There is a huge claim over all of that area, so the next step is to work with the in­dige­nous el­ders in our area. It will be up to them if they chose to help or hin­der us.”

Kerry is fiercely con­fi­dent the pro­ject will hap­pen but is only un­cer­tain on the time frame.

“We have the tenac­ity of sev­eral blue heel­ers to keep try­ing,” she said.

“There are some days I think, I am too old and too tired and I should just close the doors, but then I think of all the peo­ple who have gone to a lot of trou­ble to help us.

“They came to our aid, and you can’t… you just can’t let them down be­cause you are feel­ing tired.”

WHY OR­GANIC?

In 1979 Kerry’s grand­fa­ther, Greg Jon­s­son, was one of the pioneers of the or­ganic in­dus­try, re­fus­ing to dip or treat his cat­tle with chem­i­cals.

By 1996 their herd of about 5000 santa and brah­man cross cat­tle were cer­ti­fied or­ganic.

“There are so many peo­ple not well, and it’s be­cause of what we eat,” she said.

“We just need to go back to sim­ple food that’s not pro­cessed.

“When peo­ple read la­bels, they are look­ing at the salt, or fat con­tent, but if they read the in­gre­di­ents, you would end with test tubes.”

Now, there are well-known pre­mi­ums for cer­ti­fied or­ganic meat, but when the Jon­s­son fam­ily started, it was con­sid­ered some­thing of a fad.

“Our banks used to say it was a niche mar­ket and would never give us any credit for be­ing cer­ti­fied or­ganic,” she said.

“But now JBS in Rock­hamp­ton of­fers a pre­mium over con­ven­tional or com­mer­cial herds for cer­ti­fied or­ganic.”

What drives Kerry ev­ery day is cre­at­ing a sus­tain­able busi­ness for her six adult chil­dren.

THE ABAT­TOIR

When fin­ished, the Jevoise abat­toir will be built to ex­port stan­dards and have the ca­pa­bil­ity to process about 100 head a day.

“We will start small, but will de­sign it with the op­tion of ex­pand­ing,” she said.

“Even if we only start up with only one cold room, we will later be able to ex­pand with an­other.

“Ideally, ev­ery beast that is grown on Jer­voise will be put through our pro­cess­ing sys­tem.

“We want to have a good flow, for them to come in on their hooves and leave pack­aged and ready for re­tail.”

Even­tu­ally Jer­voise Or­ganic Meats will pro­duce beef, pork, chicken and goat meat, she said.

The op­tion of ex­pand­ing to have mul­ti­ple cold rooms will be es­sen­tial to process dif­fer­ent an­i­mal types.

HEALTH SCARE

It’s been a slow drawn-out jour­ney for the Jon­s­son fam­ily, and look­ing down the bar­rel of los­ing their busi­ness took its toll on Kerry’s health.

Last year she suf­fered a heart at­tack dur­ing what she now jokes was the most “in­con­ve­nient time”.

“I don’t know whether it was from be­ing tired of fight­ing the banks or whether it was the crowd-fund­ing.

“That was a hard thing for me to do.

“We had to bare our soul to the pub­lic.

Kerry was feel­ing tired, and like she had in­di­ges­tion when load­ing two pel­lets of meat onto a truck headed for the de­pot.

“My daugh­ter told me to sit down and said ‘Mum, you are right, I can do it on my own’. So I sat for a minute and then I said to my­self, ‘Kerry don’t be lazy, get up’.

“So we loaded the truck, and then we un­loaded them and my in­di­ges­tion didn’t go away.

“Cut a long story short, I ended up with a quadru­ple by­pass and it put me on my back for three months.”

The heart at­tack shocked Kerry’s fam­ily, and their fight for the abat­toir was tem­po­rar­ily put on hold.

“I am bet­ter now. But if I feel tired now I sit down. I don’t push through it any­more,” she said.

❝I just think of all the gen­er­ous peo­ple who have helped us… and I know we can’t stop. — Kerry Jonn­son

PHOTOS: HONEY ATKIN­SON

OR­GANIC BEEF: Ash­ton Jon­s­son, mus­ter­ing on Jer­voise Sta­tion in Far North Queens­land.

The Jer­voise home­stead (above), and Kris­tine, Kerry and Pam Jon­s­son.

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