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The Penfolds – a family of fourth-generation Australian beef cattle farmers – first heard about Covid in December 2019 from their business partners in Wuhan, well before anyone understood how the virus would change the world.
Karen Penfold, who works on the western Queensland farm with her husband and four daughters, says she was not overly worried at first as she “didn’t think it would come … to impact the whole of Australia”.
Cattle on the Penfold’s property. ‘We genuinely love and care for our animals … they’re our everything,’ says Karen Penfold.
The family is used to dealing with unpredictable forces such as the weather, she says. But along with the devastating impact of Covid, 2020 also brought a Chinese ban on beef imports from Australia.
“When you live on the land it’s from one challenge to the next,” Karen says.
The family had worked hard to develop a relationship with their business associates in Wuhan, visiting the region in March 2019 and in turn welcoming their Chinese partners to Queensland.
Although the business relationship fell through when China imposed bans on beef imports from Australia in May 2020, the Chinese visitors in 2019 helped inspire the name of the brand: “Four Daughters.”
During the visit to Queensland, Karen says, the Penfolds’ Chinese business partners “were blown away by what the girls did: drive tractors and feed loaders, as well as doing the cooking and washing at the end of the day”.
All four daughters want to stay on the land and take over the family business, which Karen says “has been the driving factor in growing our business” despite the hardships it faced last year.
The Penfolds have reimagined their product for a local market and are now selling beef directly to domestic consumers as part of a paddock-to-plate model.
“What has been positive out of Covid, it’s making us consider where our food does come from and provides us the opportunity to help build city-[to]-country connections.
“[It shows] that there’s another generation of young people on the land who want to stay on the land and feed the nation,” Karen says.
The Penfolds want domestic buyers to know the beef is ethically and sustainably sourced.
“We need our land to be there for the next generation and the generations to come and managing our environment and caring for our animals is what we do every day and why we get out of bed,” says Karen.
Molly Penfold, 21, says the past year “definitely showed us what [working in agriculture] can be like and how suddenly it can all change. But seeing how Mum and Dad dealt with it all and involved us the whole way instilled confidence in us.”
Despite being the eldest Bonnie Penfold, 23, does not lay sole claim to leadership. “We all have our areas of strength. Jemima’s quite good in the cattle yard, Mol is very good at driving machinery … we all have different abilities.”
The youngest, Matilda Penfold, 17, says it’s “really important for us to work together but to work together we all have to have separate jobs so as not to compete with each other.”
“Being women in agriculture is becoming more and more common,” says Jemima, 19. “You do occasionally come across people with the mindset that girls can’t do as good a job as a man. It does hurt a bit, but it makes me think we’ve just got to do a better job and prove we can do it.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Daughters of the land: four sisters toil on Australian cattle country – a picture essay | Australia news