Clever beef farmers create innovative market for bone broth 


July 2019 | By: Paul Robinson, Photography: Gethin coles

Greg and Lauren Newell’s beef and bone broth business, Linga Longa, is booming and now stocked in Harris Farm. But they’re concerned about the authenticity of farmers' markets.


Lauren and Greg Newell on their farm with dogs Gizmo and Dexter. 
EVERY Thursday, Greg and Lauren Newell pack their truck and hit the road for the five-hour journey from Wingham on the mid-North Coast to Sydney, dropping off a few deliveries on the way. They sell cuts of certified grass-fed, hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef to a growing band of disciples at The Beaches Market at Warriewood and Carriageworks Farmers Market at Eveleigh.


Greg and Lauren at the Carriageworks Farmers Markets in Eveleigh on a Saturday morning selling their grass-fed finished beef. Source: Facebook. 

With a herd of about 160 Hereford breeders plus calves, the Newells cater to online orders. Greg and Lauren raise the cattle, select which beasts to process each week and send them to Wingham abattoir for processing. A local butcher cuts up the meat, then the Newells vacuum-pack it in their NSW Food Authority-approved packing room. 


Packing the truck so it’s ready for the five hour drive from Wingham to Sydney is part of Greg and Laurens weekly preparation.

“We do the whole nose-to-tail experience for the customer,” says Lauren. “Customers order online, we cut and pack it how they want, then they collect it from the markets. Local customers can come to the farm and we also deliver on the way to Sydney if it’s not too far out of the way.”

They are also innovating with new products. “I’ve been making bone broth for about eight months,” Lauren says. “Now I’m doing one for pets, with our kelpie’s face on the label. They’re selling like hot cakes in Sydney. People like that we use the whole beast.” 
 

About eight months ago Lauren began making bone broth to sell. She has recently started making one for pets and it’s proving to be a huge success. 

Linga Longa Farm was one of the first beef producers in NSW certified under the Cattle Council of Australia’s Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System. “At the beginning, that ‘certified grass-fed’ tag was amazing for us,” says Lauren. “We can show new customers photos of the farm and tell them how we self-raise. It’s difficult in Australia to get grass-finished beef. People market it as grass-fed, but often it’s not – calves eat grass when they’re born, but then get sent to a feedlot. With our grass-fed certification we can’t have any grain on this property. Even the chook food gets locked away.” 


Aerial photo of their drafting process underway. This happens weekly to determine which beasts are ready for market. 

Up to three animals are processed each week, depending on orders and how much meat is in stock. Greg says herd size remains constant. “We have the bull in all year round so it’s a self-replacing herd. If a female meets all our criteria, she’ll become one of our breeders.”

Greg emphasises meat quality benefits from processing locally. “The beauty is the abattoir is only 7km away so there’s no stress factor on the animals. Unlike other producers, where the cattle might be on a truck for up to 48 hours, ours are there within 10 minutes.”

The Newells are raising smaller beasts, but are satisfied with the quality of the yield. “We’ve gone back to a smaller animal,” says Greg. “Our carcase weight is around 350kg per animal, but we’re bringing that animal in around 12-14 months on grass to achieve that. In the old days, the supermarkets tricked farms into having bigger, fatter animals – and getting a better price, sure, but people forgot about the eating quality.”
 

The Newell’s cattle have a short 10 minute truck journey to Wingham abattoir. One major benefit of processing locally is reduced stress levels to the animal, which improves overall eating quality. 

The authenticity of their produce is a source of pride. “There’s no middleman, from conception to consumption,” says Greg. “When you eat your steak, we can tell you which cut is from which animal.”

His farming methods have gone full circle. “We’re self-raisers and basically we’ve returned to what my forefathers did,” he says. 

“Instead of using high-input chemical fertilisers, we’re now a regenerative farm. You’ve got to take time to understand the pastures. Look at the soil, at what’s going on with the grass, try to guess what Mother Nature’s up to. A lot of the natural grasses are coming back.”

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Greg in the cattle yards selecting which beast to send off to Wingham abattoir. 
Sustainable farming methods help drought preparedness  

Greg’s commitment is apparent, even though drought has made life tough. “The drought has been hard, but we haven’t had to bring in any feed,” he says. “Our methods have sustained us. 

“There’s a small window to put seed in at the moment. We’ve got high soil percentages and very low moisture content, so we’re relying on the natural grasses to come back and hang on. There’ll be a six-to-eight-week gap over winter where we’ll have no growth because Mother Nature shuts down the plant systems. I need to get as much bulk as I can out of my pasture to carry us through.”

Lauren concedes luck plays a part. “We were seeing it really tough last year. Everything we’d planted through winter had struggled, but we had good rain in October. Those winter pastures came on and we baled about 150 bales of silage and chicory, which we’ve stored – not something we normally do.”


Grazing cattle purely on farm pastures is a feature used to promote Linga Longa products to customers. 

The Newells’ buymeat.com.au online sales operation began about 10 years ago as a Facebook marketing exercise. Prior to meeting Lauren, Greg was selling his cattle the “usual” way. With her advertising background, Lauren reckoned social media could be a game changer.

“Advertising on social media was an unknown, but I thought we could spend $10 a week and get a lot of mileage out of it,” she says. “Greg was taking his animals to the cattle yards and one week he’d get $1/kg, another he’d get $1.20. It was like Russian roulette – no control over how much you’d get for the same animal, week to week. Now we have control over what we get.”

Greg says they are now “price givers rather than price takers” and have developed a strong following at the farmers’ markets – especially as consumer demand for authenticity grew. Opening a farmstay on the property was a big value-add to their marketing. Visitors can interact with the farm in what Lauren terms a “360-degree experience”.


Video source: AirBnb YouTube.

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Linga Longa participates in food shows such as Taste of Sydney, Taste Tuesdays and the Sydney Royal Easter Show, often under the Meat & Livestock Australia banner. Lauren sends a weekly newsletter to customers to flag any special events. 

“The shows have been a great help because we’ve always been advocates for the whole nose-to-tail experience,” she says. “We take part in demonstrations. They might be cooking short ribs. Greg talks about raising the animal, the butcher shows where they are on the beast and the chef cooks.” 


Linga Longa offers a wide range of cuts that were once thrown into the mincer. Cooking demonstrations by chefs at food events enables customers to learn ways to cook these cuts. 

Preparing for a recent demonstration at Hilton Sydney with celebrity chef Luke Mangan, Lauren says education and marketing go hand-in-hand. 

“When we first started selling at the markets, everybody just wanted Scotch fillet or eye fillet,” she says. “I’d cook a minute steak and people would say: ‘My god, this tastes like eye fillet’. Yet it was one of the cheapest cuts on the animal. We were educating them about good-quality, young, grass-fed animals. The cooking shows were starting to promote and cook all those secondary cuts such as brisket and short rib that we would’ve put into mince five years ago.”

Greg says education about meat quality and provenance extends to restaurants. 

 “If people can be told ‘this is a grass-fed certified organic steak from Linga Longa Farm’, it shows the restaurant cares about the ethics of the food it puts on the table,” he says. 

“You want to know where the meat is from, if it’s grain-fed or grass-fed. We do that for cheese and wine. We should do it for steak.”  - Greg Newell

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Lauren Newell explains the benefits of bone broth


Linga Longa’s bone broth is now stocked on the shelves of Harris Farm stores.

How do you make it?
“It’s bones, vegetables, herbs and spices cooked over 48 hours.”

Is it popular?
 “I have been selling it at the markets for the past two years. It is growing in popularity due to a growing awareness of its health properties. I recently had it tested for shelf life and can assure people it lasts [up to] five weeks in the fridge. I have just got it into Harris Farm and it has been on the shelves for the past couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to it growing.”

Who buys it? 
“Health-conscious consumers. It is rich in nutrients, collagen and calcium, and is believed to help with people suffering gut problems. Women use it for beauty because of the collagen it has. Athletes use it for muscle recovery. I have just started marketing a plain version especially for pets — with our kelpie featured on the label.”

Challenges with making and marketing it? 
“It is time-consuming to make. A lot of people make their own, but unless they can be assured the bones are from young, grass-fed animals they’re wasting their time. This year, I’m concentrating on marketing to health food shops. It’s challenging trying to open doors to that market. Taste-testing at the markets is important and I will be doing this over the winter months, as it is perfect for both flu prevention or providing relief if someone has the flu.”
 
Real farmers are needed at farmers’ markets to answer questions urban dwellers are asking 

There are growing concerns some events advertised as farmers’ markets actually have very few stalls from farmers.

Greg reckons consumers can feel burnt. “They want to know the farmer, where he farms, what the differences in those areas mean to the animal,” he says. “They’re taking a lot of interest in climate change and the effects on cattle. They’re asking questions only a farmer could answer.”
 

Lauren and Greg have complete traceability of their product and offer the entire paddock to plate experience. 

He likes the way the Carriageworks market in Sydney run. “Carriageworks is government-run with a charter. They come onto the farm to look at your operation. None of the others do. Anyone can buy an Akubra hat and say they’re a farmer, but if you don’t know your farmer by name and can’t visit his farm, who the hell are you dealing with? 

“There needs to be a licence system, otherwise the wholesalers see it as a grey area to dump a bit of produce. They don’t care about authenticity, just cramming in as many stalls as possible.”

The Newells say it’s not about their profit margin, more the importance of traceability. “It doesn’t hit our sales because customers know we’re genuine farmers as soon as they ask questions,” says Greg. 

“The traceability has to be there. The butcher is just buying it from an abattoir and there’s no traceability, no story. Ours is the real deal. It starts in our paddock.”
 

Linga Longa truck packed with meat ready for a weekend attending farmers’ markets. 

Lauren adds that Linga Longa cannot compete on price. “They can buy a lot cheaper than we can grow it,” she says. But where the Newells do come out on top is with consistency of produce. 

The couple are members of NSW Farmers, and Greg raised the issue of farmers’ market authenticity at the Association’s forum in Wingham, attended by state politicians in the lead-up to the NSW election. “One bloke said he could always tell who the real farmers were, but what about the other customers? They eventually conceded there was a problem. 

“To date no-one’s suggested a licensing system or producer number to assist the consumer in finding the genuine product.”

Lauren suggests a name change. “Don’t call it a farmers’ market if it’s not farmers selling genuine farm produce. Call it a food market.” 

Greg and Lauren’s farmers’ market tips

1. Be honest and credible. Welcome people onto your farm and show them around.

2. We don’t spruik. The produce speaks for itself. And the crowd of people hanging around the display cabinet speaks for itself.

3. Don’t employ people, do your own selling. The only person who knows about that meat is the person who grew it.

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