I wanted to write this as soon as I could while everything was still fresh.
This is one of those symbolic shots. A new door I haven't walked through before. One I feel passionate about but am also apprehensive about. But, that's the point of it all, isn't it?
The Back story:
This whole thing started a couple of years ago. I have slowly but surely become convinced about the importance of putting the best that you can into your body. No longer supporting the mega-corporations that control what we eat. The companies that mass produce our foods, caring more about the money filling their pockets and product turn-around than their consumers. It's industry, and I'm not a fan. It's nearly killed the art of farming, to a point where you have to seek it out in the hidden valleys tucked between mountains.
Last fall my husband and I started talking about looking into buying a whole butchered pig. It was an economical issue but we also wanted to find a local farmer so we knew where it would be coming from. My one hesitation was that I would be dealing with a whole pig. I knew how to cook a pork chop and a mean tenderloin, but a whole pig is a different story. I wasn't sure if I could handle it. The topic dropped because when I started looking into it I was having a hard time finding what I was looking for.
Fast forward to the end of January...I signed up for the Charcutepalooza challenge. I knew that in the upcoming year I would be learning how to deal with the WHOLE pig. Even the parts I didn't really want to know how to deal with. I found myself rethinking getting a pig butchered for our family again. I brought it up with my husband again and he said I should look into it some more. So I did. After a couple of weeks of asking around I was still coming up empty-handed. What I wanted was a farmer that had the same perspective in the importance of putting quality foods into your body. Really giving a damn about what you were feeding your family. Having respect for the fact that you were taking a life so that you could be fed. Being able to look your food in the face. Was that sooooo hard? In a desperate moment at the end of February/the beginning of March, I put up an ad on Craig's list. I figured the worst that could happen was a few strange e-mails, but maybe something would turn up. When it comes to Craig's list you never know.
I got two responses. One was from a guy I would never in a million years or for a million dollars deal with. But then there was Mr. S. I got an e-mail from Mr. S telling me that he was first and foremost NOT a pig farmer. He did however raise a small herd of pigs for friends and family. He said he would consider raising a pig for my family. Over the next couple of months we e-mailed back and forth. I asked a lot of questions, he offered a lot of answers and information.
- From what I have gathered over the months he likes to be fully involved in the process from start to finish.
- The pigs that he breeds are an F1 Hampshire/Yorkshire cross.
- He gives the pigs a large pen for when the weather is bad, but he also has a pasture for them to roam around in where they get to be pigs.
- He knows the farrower.
- Mr. S knows the person that grows the corn for the feed, which he himself takes and mills at another friends farm. He mixes in a few other things depending on the season. He also gives them weekly treats, like fruits and vegetables.
- He knows the vet by name and she is there once a month to check on them...even if they are healthy. Mr. S says that it is a very important relationship. If one of his pigs get sick he knows she will come no matter what.
- He keeps track of anything they get, whether it be sickness or medication. This group has only had de-wormer and Mr. S only uses the kind of medicine that would allow him to butcher the very next day if he wanted to.
- He NEVER EVER EVER uses growth hormones or anything of it's like. Yay!
- He has slaughtered and butchered his own pigs but he also knows a butcher.
Fact: I love pig noses.
We talked price and it was more than reasonable. We decided we would go up around June. Oh, but then a tornado hit the farm. That sorta put a kink in the plans.
We were finally able to set a firm date (which was today) amongst our schedules. As today rolled in I was feeling a mix of emotions. I was excited (because I had been trying to do this for almost a year), nervous, apprehensive, anxious, and there was a definite gravity to the situation that I was keenly aware of. I was going to see how Mr. S pulled this all together, but I was also going to be picking out an animal that I was going to eat. I would know it's face, touched it's warm skin.
We loaded the kiddos into the car and drove the hour to Mr. S's farm. When we arrived the first thing we saw was a goat. Mr S. has more then just pigs. Did I not mention that? Besides the pigs there is a horse, some ducks, goats, broiler chickens, laying chickens, rabbits, cats and dogs. My kids were in heaven. I doubted I would be able to get them to leave.
We spent the better part of two hours there talking and learning.
Hey look! There's Naiya!
I learned all kinds of stuff. There was the serious and the light. Since I don't want this to be all business no pleasure we will focus mostly on the light.
- Apparently these pigs sleep in a bit and don't wake up till around 10am (color me jealous).
- They love watermelons and mangos but they adore marshmallows.
- The pigs are curious by nature, especially when it comes to shoelaces (note to self: next time wear garden boots).
Here is Mr. S. tying his boots back up. The pigs only considered this a challenge.
- I learned what to look for in a good pig.
- I learned that the barn cats were friendly... and my kids loved them.
The pigs were rooting around in the hay. some were trotting. Others were eating or lazing around.
But the pigs were happy and you could see it in their faces.
Then it was time to pick our pig. My husband didn't really want to. Understandably so, picking a specific pig meant you would be able to recall it's face when you were eating it as opposed to just one of a small herd. But I needed to do this. At least once I needed to be able to put a face to my food. We decided on #11 whom we have since named Miss Piggy, mostly because I am a nervous laugher and needed to lighten up the situation a bit. We chose her because Mr. S said that she would yield a lot of bacon which is one of my husbands favorite porky parts.
This was the last picture I took of the pigs before we left. It was a sobering shot to take. I plan on going up one more time before slaughter to help out a bit and get to see them one more time. To see how they have grown...maybe I'll bring some mangos or a bag of marshmallows. I'm glad I'm doing this as hard as it is. I feel like this is the way it should be. I have gained a lot of respect for the pig as an animal over this past year through Charcutepalooza. It has not slipped through my fingers that I am taking a life when I sit down to eat some wonderful bit of charcuterie that I have taken the time and care to prepare for my family. This seems fitting.
I have so much respect for what Mr. S and his family do. This is not their "job". Both he and his wife have other careers and this is just something they feel very strongly about. I feel privileged that they are raising a pig for my family. Many thanks to them for doing this and for taking their precious time for my family to come and interrupt their day.
One last thing. When we left there was a goat under our car. I never thought I would say that.