Biofarm produces organic, additive-free, probiotic yoghurt and, was one of Aotearoa’s first organic farms. Today Biofarm yoghurt is still owned and operated by its original owners, Cathy and Jamie Tait-Jamieson.
Cathy met Jamie in the 70s when he was a musician travelling Aotearoa. Jamie was a psychology graduate but along with Cathy made the leap into farming on his grandfather’s Manawatu land, which has now been in the family for more than 80 years. They started milking cows together the day after they were married! When the couple took over the farm in the late 1970s they had an unconventional idea for the way they wanted to farm- they wanted to work with nature!
Fast track 40 years and Jamie still produces every batch of BioFarm yoghurt himself and oversees the resilience of the farm’s ecology. Cathy has spent her adult life dedicated to the promotion of sustainable farming and indigenous food sovereignty, (in between milking cows that is!) She has been recognised with awards such as Māori Businesswoman of the Year and Organic Leader of the year in the Organic New Zealand awards.
We asked Cathy some questions about Biofarm’s beginnings and how the farm operates today.
How did your business begin?
BioFarm now has its 5th generation walking the whenua. Jamie and I began operating the family farm in Palmerston North in 1977 and quickly became disillusioned with the high input situation happening on neighbouring farms. In 1986, after using Bio-dynamic farming principles since the early 1980s, we became certified organic. In 2000 BioFarm became the recipient of Hua Parakore tohu, acknowledging our tikanga from a Te Ao Māori perspective. For us, we have always farmed as consumers, so animal welfare, waste minimisation, and food from healthy soils has been core to how we farm daily.
Who are the key people involved and what do they do?
The key people on the farm are predominantly whānau. Our four children grew up on the farm and are now working and living on or near the farm with our (almost) 9 mokopuna. We have 2 sons and 2 daughters; Mara looks after property maintenance and the farm ecology along with Jamie. My son Eru and I take care of compliance and he also oversees all technology support. James is our tree and orchard technician, and Alice provides governance advice. My sister does our administration, and my niece and nephew both work as farmhands and in dispatchment.
Some of our team now have children who are working with us, so BioFarm is intertwined in their whakapapa. For example, Luke has worked on the farm on and off since he was 13, he is now 30 and is the farm’s arborist and engineer. Bill lives in the neighbouring farm and has worked on Biofarm for 25 years. Andrea our factory supervisor has worked here for 20 years. Everyone on the farm is key to our success
What is your point of difference?
We are a no-till farm and use 100% New Zealand sourced organic ingredients. BioFarm is also unique in that we produce both the milk and the finished yoghurt product here on the farm. Our new mums and their calves are not separated. (Traditionally calves are taken from their mums straight away). We also have a diversity of farming systems with trees, dairy, beef, sheep, goats and multispecies pasture.
Our key commitments are organic food, environmental sustainability, and fair trade. How does your business fit with these concepts?
We have been certified organic for 36 years. We planted 200 trees per year for 10 years from 2005 – 2015 for flood protection and to provide animal shelter and shade. Farmland is an important carbon sink and our mission is to support the life-giving properties of our whenua. Carbon in our air is a threat, once sequestered in our soils it provides the fertility to nourish us. Our yoghurt packaging is recyclable in New Zealand. We provide year-round employment and training opportunities for our local community.
What have the challenges been?
A challenge for us is getting our story out to consumers that we are not your typical dairy farm or your typical dairy product. Our business is busy, but we are not interested in growth for growth sake. We want to concentrate on providing good healthy food from good healthy animals grazing from a healthy environment.
What else would you like people to know?
I’d like our customers to know how grateful we are to have their support, some for 36 years! Their support means we have been able keep ownership of our family farm and to rescue neighbouring whenua by leasing and converting to organic. Customers have enabled us to stand strong in a sustainable certified organic farming system that provides nutrition for thousands of people each week.