From pig farming to cheesemaking: how grown-up work experience changed my life

In the year 2020, I was a very exhausted chef who was dissatisfied with the hospitality industry and determined to make a change in my life.

I was contemplating changing my career path into travel writing and was just on the verge of booking a major overseas trip when, like many others, I discovered myself in a jobless state. Between waiting in line with Centrelink and wailing on the couch, I realized I could use this experience as a trigger to alter my life.
When I was just 15 years old, I had the chance to gain experience working at an eatery in the area under the direction of a fantastic female chef. I took up an apprenticeship, and that was the end of it. I was to be a chef.

At the age of 27, I was fascinated by eating. However, I realized I wasn’t going to become a chef anymore. With a pandemic that was global continuing to rage, my dream of writing a travel book was probably not on the table.

Then, I came up with a plan to take on short-term, temporary internships that dealt in the field of food. I wanted to gain knowledge in a manner that would allow me to get involved and work with my hands instead of passively watching. I was looking to find experiences from different regions of the country. If I could not travel overseas, it would be good to see some more of Australia. Also, I added a second requirement that I would gain knowledge from women. After my time in hospitality, I was tired of men instructing me on what I should do.

The next stage of my plan was to send many emails, then slide into Instagram DMs, put up posts in Facebook groups, and cold-calling friends of friends.

At first, I was greeted with a lot of rejections.

However, I found gold: an artisan cheese maker in Orange was thrilled to bring on a contract for eight weeks. She was looking to increase production prior to the food festival, and my previous work working in kitchens was an ideal candidate for the job. I even got paid as a casual worker. A niece of a friend from the family had a spare bedroom I could rent for cheap. It was taking place.

Then, I was able to be accepted to an internship at an artisanal pastured pig farmer and butcher in the region of Victoria. The job wasn’t paid. However, I was expected to reside on-site, and all meals would be offered.

At this point, you’re probably wondering how I could afford to let my life go and wander across Australia over months and time.

Do you remember that huge overseas trip I didn’t take? I could make ends meet with the savings I made for a few months. I’m not dependent and am incredibly fortunate to live in stable, affordable housing. Even so, it was a loss in money, and while I was prepared to accept the failure in the short term, I was aware that I could not keep it up for the long haul.

These internships enabled me to shake off a rut and change my priorities. I shifted my concentration on traveling and writing and moved to writing that, in retrospect, was a far more appropriate choice. It turns out that making an email to an editor is more relaxed once you’ve written 50 emails to farmers and winemakers asking if you can join them for a tour and ask for their permission.

I was a regular at writing down my internship experiences in a journal, and it didn’t take long before I was able to land myself a regular freelance food-related writing gig that was later a permanent part-time job.

In integrating myself into diverse areas of the food chain, I also stumbled upon an incredibly vibrant community. Through connections formed on the farm where I raised pigs, I found myself connected to a farming not-for-profit in my neighborhood, which has led to a more regular schedule of jobs.

The great thing about it was the fact that these new jobs could (at least in part) be completed remotely. Once I’d topped my savings, I set to another position followed by another. Each time, I had a greater safety net than what I experienced in the previous one because each internship provided new opportunities and expanded my perspectives.

In 2022, I worked at a market garden in Queensland, and I was able to travel from Brisbane to Broome to pay for an Indigenous bush food expert to guide me through wild harvesting. It was a life-changing event that changed my way of thinking. cConsiderfood.

The most important thing I’ve learned from this journey is that passionate people would like to share their passions. If you’ve thought you’d like to try weaving or woodworking, there’s someone out there willing to help you learn. There’s no need to go to the level I did. There could be someone near you willing to instruct you for a few hours each week.

In doing this, you may gain more than just an entirely new skill as a result of the experience.

I’m still looking for additional jobs – if you’re a female brewer, contact me! I may never end. The passion I’ve discovered isn’t just about one job or even a single profession but rather an interest in studying food and making connections with those who create it.

Lucy Ridge is a food writer who lives and works in Ngunnawal as well as Ngambri country. She is writing an autobiography of her experiences during her internship.

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