One of the greatest things about running this company is the opportunity to meet people who share my passion for sustainable food. I’ve met people who are shopping for better options, people who are marketing differently and of course people who are growing food. Farmers are always fun. They are usual independent and solitary by nature, but always generous with their knowledge and hospitality.
This past summer, I visited the farm of a small Tamworth pork herd. The pigs share their space with some goats, various poultry and Ed (the resident farmer.) I showed up mid morning, just in time to interrupt coffee break around the kitchen table. After chatting with Ed for a while, I asked if he would show me around?’
Eds face lite up. “Come on ,” he says. “I’ll introduce you to the girls.”
‘The girls’ are his sows. Each of them is 500 lbs of excitement when they see him coming. We visit them in their outdoor pens. He talks about their personalities and how long he has had them. I give them a bristly rub behind the ears and a good pat. Taking a look over the treed pasture, specked with goats who won’t respect the fence boundaries, I have to ask. “Where are the piglets?”
Ed looks around. “I’ll call Momma,” he says.
He calls her by name and out of the long grass comes a very vocal, large, red-brown sow. Her loud demeanor makes me wonder if she is happy to see us, but she comes right up, greets Ed and stands while he gives her a good rub hello. The sound she is still making is something like a rough bark and soon enough I see who she is talking to. A group of 9, three week old piglets emerge from the undergrowth, where they were probably curled up together in their nest. They move quickly, staying together, a little like a flock of birds. Weaving in and out of the shelters, they make their way to Momma. She gives them a look over. Once she is satisfied that everyone is well she quiets down and slowly wanders off with her tiny bundles following along beside her.
The piglets are cute and the sow is impressive. Ed has chosen this breed because they are well adapted to pasture life. The Tamworth pig is a very old English breed, dating back hundreds of years. They were first introduced to North America 1877. Traits like good mothering skill, disease resistance and the ability to utilize lower energy feed inputs have been selected for over many generations. You will never see this breed in a large scale operation because they do poorly in confinement and their growth rate is too slow for today’s pork industry. It also means you have never tasted pork like this in the grocery store. The Tamworth is especially known for producing superior bacon.
Farms like Eds would have been common place when your grandmother was young. The last 2 generation have seen a drastic change in the way we farm. From the 1920’s to today the number of hogs grown in Canada has risen from 3.3 million to 12.6 million. In the same time period, the number of farms has dropped from 400 thousand to 7 thousand. (Statistics Canada 2015) This change has been primary powered by the bottom line. Now, I appreciate that affordable food is important to us all, but we are becoming increasingly aware of the true cost of food. It is time we start taking a more inclusive look at the price we are paying. If you are interested in learning more about the changes to the pork industry, the Modern Farmer magazine has a interesting summary. There is a video from the 1960 that is pretty amusing, as well.
Small scale farmers like Ed face different challenges then the industrial hog producer. There are different expenses and responsibilities. Cost of producing each pound of meat is higher for the small heritage pig farmer, because these animals take more time to grow and space requirements are larger. To help keep the cost to consumers lower these farmers often do all their own marketing, packaging and customer service. Time spent at a farmers market or on the phone taking orders is time that is not spent on the farm. Industrial farms have marketing boards in place to help educate, advertise and get product onto supermarket shelves.
The small farmer does his job because he loves what he does and he cares for each individual animal. He believes he is producing a superior product, with a deeper flavor and healthier origins. He is a steward of our land. It has been so wonderful for me to have the opportunity to see all the passion at work by the small farmers in our area.
There are more people out there then you know who are thinking about what a food system might look like that makes ecological food affordable, but still pays the farmer equitably. That is what we are working towards here at D&H Newman. We want to connect you to the farms in your back yard without you getting your boots dirty. At the same time we work hard to keep prices as low as possible and keep you informed about where your food comes from and how it is grown. We are a micro, local option. A one woman operation. We deal with a few products, right now, with new ones being added regularly.
There are a couple of other broader reaching options for purchasing local food coming on the scene. Some of you may have heard about Freshspoke and Eat local Grey Bruce. Both of these organizations allow you to shop directly from specific farms and have delivery options. It is wonderful to see how technology is facilitating alternatives to the traditional grocery chain. I would encourage you to check them out. Each is a little different in the services and products they offer. Both are young groups so I expect to see them become easier to use with a broader list of products as they grow.
It is an exciting time for local food in Bruce and Grey County. Technology is changing our ability to connect with each other and where our food comes from.
For me nothing will every beat a visit to the farm to see ‘the girls!’
You can try some Tamworth pastured pork from us in a 10 lb sample pack or place your custom bulk order now for January pick up.