Secrets to that winning formula

DANIEL and Kim Croker are proof that with enough hard work and dedication dreams really do come true. The couple, who started out as pig farmers just a six years ago, have turned their Fork it Farm into an award-winning micro-food business. With the ultimate aim of both being able to work on farm at their property at Lebrina, that dream has now become reality.

The couple’s achievements were recently recognised when they were announced as the winners of the Sprout Small Producer of the Year Award. After starting producing mainly fresh pork products, using their Berkshire pigs bred and raised on farm, the couple’s business has expanded significantly.

They are now at capacity on the 44ha property, with 12 sows, producing about 150 pigs a year. As well as the pigs, an on-farm processing facility and shop have been added. More recently the couple have also started catering for on-farm visitors with their platters of handmade products and a specially designed undercover picnic area. They regularly host long-table feasts as well, which enables them to showcase their unique products. Using as much of each animal as possible is still one of their core business strategies, so they have spent the last few years learning how to create interesting value-added products from their pigs.

“Usually at some time in the year I’ll say to Kim, ‘OK, no more products,’ but then it’s like ‘What about this,” Mr Croker said.

The Crokers were founding members of the Tasmanian Produce Collective, which has grown significantly since it was established a few years ago. After initially selling most of their products through farmers markets, the couple are now focusing on a number of different sales avenues including wholesale to local restaurants and specialist retailers along with the farm shop, produce collective.

They still attend the Launceston and Hobart farmers’ markets once a month where they have a solid base of regular customers. Demand for their pork has grown significantly so the couple have branched out into other products.

“We’ve kind of reached the point where we don’t have enough pork, so we’ve started doing some wallaby and beef products as well,” Mrs Croker said. As the business has evolved, so has their product range.

“We’re moving a lot more out of the fresh pork now and more into a lot of the charcuterie-style products because that’s what our facility here is really designed for,” Mr Croker said. “That’s what I like doing so when it comes to new products, I go ‘OK, I get to play with something else’. I’ll give it a try and see if I can make that work.”

One of their most popular new products now is blood pudding. “Each time we make double what we did the time before and we still sell out,” Mrs Croker said. Having a larger range of value-added products also means their range has a longer shelf life which Mr Croker said was also helpful. The Croker’s pigs are processed at the Springfield abattoir, which they said was ideal for their business.

“It’s not far away from us. They do a great job and we can get the blood back now too, which is great for our blood pudding,” Mrs Croker said. The Berkshire pigs are a heritage breed, with slow growth and top-quality carcass traits.

To ensure a consistent supply of pigs, there are two sows having piglets every six weeks year-round on the farm. Sows can have anywhere between four to 16 piglets.

They are run in a free-range pasture system, supplemented by milk waste products from a local dairy company and apples from local orchards when they are available. The pigs are turned off at liveweights of between 65kg-90kg dressed. Mrs Croker said finding new genetics for their pigs can be difficult, especially in Tasmania due to small numbers. Now that the business is performing well, the couple say they are focusing on achieving a bit more work life balance. “We’re really happy with the outcome of it all,” Mr Croker said. “It’s a lot of work because we don’t outsource anything, we do it all ourselves. When we moved down our aim was to have both of us working on farm so that’s happening now.” The couple say they were thrilled to win the Sprout award which had come as a surprise. “We’re really not the type of people who put ourselves out there for these types of awards, so to win, especially when there are so many other great producers out there, was really nice,” Mr Croker said.