Despite taking considerable challenges on the chin, these city-slickers-turned-goat-farmers are living the tree-change dream at Tolpuddle Goat Cheese and Farm Foods.
While many of us imagine packing in the corporate job and starting a new life in the country, few manage it.
In 2013, Donovan Jacka, along with his wife, Melissa, and their two kids, took that leap and traded their South Melbourne terrace for a dilapidated farm in Tarrawingee, population 370, three hours drive north-east of the CBD. “Goats were our calling,” says Donovan, laughing.
Tolpuddle Goat Cheese and Farm Foods – a goat farm, cheese factory and produce store – emerged some two years later. “It’s incredibly humbling and joyous getting something as simple as some grass and some animals and turning it into something really delicious and doing it all yourself,” says Donovan.
Although they love their rural life, the Jacka family has had to endure a “trifecta” of obstacles. In 2018, a flood almost drowned the town; in 2019, the bushfires swept through; and in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic knocked out the tourist trade. As a lot of their revenue came from supplying restaurants and at farmers’ markets, their income was decimated. “Our goats didn’t stop lactating,” says Donovan. “So we had to pivot our entire business model overnight.”
Trading 100 per cent in direct-to-public sales during the dip, Tolpuddle is welcoming customers once again, swapping picnic rugs for table service. It’s new territory for the farm but the Jackas are up to the task.
“No-one ever comes to Tolpuddle because they’re in a hurry,” says Donovan. “You want to have peace and quiet and that ability to not look at your watch and wonder, ‘Where do we have to go to next?’”
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Flexibility is key: When natural disasters can strike without warning, an ability to pivot at a moment’s notice is crucial to success – and survival. “Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say… challenges have made us a much more resilient and vibrant business,” says Donovan Jacka.
Do it for love: Dedication is nine-tenths of the law. “None of us got into this to make our fortune,” says Donovan. “We got into it because of our passion.”