“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”. 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 retired dairy cows. Though the meat was slightly tougher than the younger meat we were used to, we found that this could be remedied with optimal dry-ageing processes, resulting in superior taste.
In this search other factors that made food “good food” came to play. I questioned how terms like “organic” and “free range”, which are so indiscriminately bandied about, feature in the supply chain. Unfortunately, I found that these areas of food production aren’t as strictly regulated as one might expect, meaning “free range" is not as free as one would like. I also learnt that some 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 that he had no copper beech trees and asked his gardener why this was so. The gardener indignantly replied that they took a hundred and fifty years to grow. Without hesitation, Lyautey said, “Then we must plant today—we have no time to waste.”
The following quote from Family Wealth sums it up best: “To embark on long-term wealth preservation is an act of extraordinary courage for a family, like the planting of a copper beech tree, since the family members who initiate the process will never know whether they were ultimately successful. If you are courageous and you want to be a wealth creator in the most profound sense, get started. There is no time to waste.”
But what does all this have to do with CopperTree? This approach to wealth creation is mirrored in CopperTree’s ethos. We believe that the only long-term, sustainable approach to food production must include maximising the farmer’s return on his investment. Undervaluing the farmer’s contribution will ultimately lead to lower and lower quality and more shortcuts. This is unacceptable to CopperTree. We believe that, like the planting of copper trees, investment in good quality farming today will immeasurably aid our society of tomorrow.
Hamish, who was responsible for giving me Hughes's book introduced me to some of the best dairy farmers in Australia, from whom we got retired Holstein Friesian dairy cattle. The more mature beef, combined with our own dry-aging techniques, resulted in a superior product. Our meat is now on the menus of the best restaurants across Australia.
It is our firm belief that eventually the only parties involved in the food chain will be the farmer/producer and the chef/home cook.
CopperTree has, in a short period, graduated to ancillary food production. Our association with the dairy farmers gave us access to unadulterated raw ingredients to make butter. In 2021 CopperTree Farms launched its cultured butter product range – made using traditional French methods that develop a natural acidity to balance out the rich creaminess. We have partnered with some of Australia’s best chefs, including Neil Perry, Corey Costelloe and Mark Best, to create our Chef’s Series range of flavoured butters, bringing a touch of luxury to the home cook.
We also secured exclusive rights to what many regard as the best tasting chicken in the world: Poulet de Bresse and we are the sole NSW distributors of Blackmore Wagyu, a perfectly marbled delicacy. This 100% fullblood wagyu is widely considered the best Wagyu in the wold outside of Japan,.
So, is this where the story ends? I don’t think so. I view it more as a continuous journey towards building a legacy of superior foods using traditional methods of farming and food production.
Nick Venter, May 2021