At the age of twenty-eight, Stéphane Oester – butcher by profession, farmer by trade - has built his generations-old farm gate business Boucher de Campagne (The Country Butcher) into a prestigious, cost-effective supplier of fine meats. And in addition to being a hand to the ploughshare kind of citizen, he is beloved by locals for his dedication, charisma and affable nature
Switzerland’s northwest Jura/Bernese Jura region is traditionally underrated by travellers who opt for the more popular destinations of Zermatt or Lucerne. But that has been no deterrent to the wave of agritourism players determined to cash in on the resources available to them and increase their own tourist influx. Local farms stepped up to a protected trademark challenge launched in 1995 and coined Aventure sur la Paille (Sleeping in a Hay Bed) when a handful of female farmers set out to harness their property to bring in extra cash as well as promoting sustainable living; an initiative inspired by the Swiss Farmers’ Union annual Brunch at the Farm. In contrast to the brunch, which consists of a meal in an agricultural setting, visitors experience a night of sleeping in a barn, tasting naturally raised and minimally processed meats and produce, and enjoying the slow lifestyle embraced by local hosts. Participating families subscribe to a governing Quality Charter as they open their homes and barns to families, couples or the wandering individual seeking an eco experience.
Why the effort when farming is already so time-consuming? In the Jura/Bernese region, 54% of agricultural operations are dairy farms. Over the past twenty years the price of wholesale milk has dropped from a liveable one Swiss Franc to a meagre fifty cents per litre. According to the Interjurassian Rural Federation, seventy to eighty cents are allotted for cheese-destined milk, with a slightly higher price for organic. But local supermarkets sell Swiss pasteurised milk at roughly 1.50 per litre, organic at 1.70; and every drop in the price has a direct impact on the agriculturist’s wallet, causing smaller businesses to reel under the blow.
Some farms struggle and drop off the map while others gird their loins and seek innovative solutions, one of which is direct farm marketing. In 2010, Boucher de Campagne joined forces with four other farming families to form Les Saveurs de Nos Pâturages (Taste of the Countryside), turning exclusively agricultural production into businesses that boast an array of quality, not to mention soy-free, products; saying no to deforestation and heavy transportation costs, and offsetting the carbon footprint in the process. The absence of palm oil from the entire selection contributes to healthy eating choices, and product traceability lets consumers know where their meat is coming from.
More than that, it’s affordable. A private study conducted in early 2013 assessing four major Swiss supermarkets revealed that three out of four were 10% more expensive than Boucher de Campagne per meat kilo. ‘People like to eat local,’ explains Oester with a contagious energy, ‘but many think it’s out of their budget. In reality, it’s a win-win for everyone.’
Boucher de Campagne meats are smoked and cured in an ancient smokehouse and presented with a bucolic flare. For regular customers, the entrepreneur offers an annual meat subscription with monthly deliveries of fresh beef and veal assortments. He holds ‘Produits du terroir Jura bernois’ (Bernese Jura Products) and ‘Spécialités du Canton du Jura’ (Specialties of Jura) certification, and in 2011 his signature sausage ‘La Savoureuse’ took the Bronze medal for quality in the Swiss Local Food Competition.
Between excellence and sustainability, the age-old game just got hit with a whole new set of rules.