We’re Picky about Pigs

Posted September 16, 2013

We recently added a new line of Organic Salami, and we’re pretty excited about it.  While we started Olli Salumeria with a quest for ethically-raised, sustainable pork, this new line represents the best-of-the-best with pork that has been raised on an organic pasture, eating only certified organic feed, with no genetically modified foods, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers, no exposure to drugs or growth hormones, and the pigs must have year-round outdoor access.

These practices aren’t significantly different than what our other suppliers are doing.  We are downright picky about what sort of pork we buy for a salami, and choosing the right Farmer Partner requires a good bit of homework.  And here’s what our Farmer Partners commit to:

We think that plain pork is delicious, and like to start our process with that.  The farmers that we choose are particular about what they feed their pigs, and that diet is reflected in the taste of the pork.  If you’re buying pork in the fall after pigs have been dining on acorns, you should detect that nuttiness.  It’s somewhat like honey.  If bees are dining on clover pollen, it will taste like it.  Bees that have been in an apple orchard will produce a different flavor of honey.

Then there is the use of drugs.  It would be untrue to say that a farmer would never use a drug on an animal.  But the truth of the matter is that any farmer worth his or her weight in pork knows a thing or two about animal welfare, and is prepared to take care of medical emergencies on the farm.  Said farmer will also have a strong relationship with a veterinarian, and unlike your family doctor, those folks still make house calls.  If an animal falls ill or becomes injured, it’s taken care of.  A farmer may have a great sow that is prized for being a great mother, and her welfare impacts the future of the operation.  A well-bred boar is worth looking after.  It’s the liberal use of medications that we can’t condone.  Look at cows.

In a large factory operation, thousands of cows huddle together in less-than-sanitary conditions, dining on massive amounts of grains.  Cows are ruminants, which means that they process fiber.  Large ranches feed their cows tons of corn, because it’s cheaper than a thousand acres of pasture, and you can feed all of the cattle in one place and not have to chase them around.  This creates a problem, as cows don’t readily process corn.  This makes them sick and bloated, so they’re treated with copious amounts of antibiotics.  Ranchers start this process early in a cow’s life, as there is a reasonable certainty that it’s going to end up sick.  These cramped quarters also mean that a single sick animal is going to end up infecting an entire herd.

Researchers in China are studying this process on large pig farms.  Over half of all the pigs in the world live in China, as the Chinese are pretty fond of pork, so it makes for a good laboratory.  What they found was that – not only did the manure on these farms contain massive amounts of antibiotic – it contained tons of bacteria that was resistant to antibiotics.  Often the level of resistant bacteria was 200 times the level of an operation that didn’t use the drugs.

There’s a place a couple of hours west of our headquarters in Swoope, Virginia called Polyface Farm.  It’s run by a self-professed “Lunatic Farmer” named Joel Salatin, and he inherited the farm from his mom and dad, who started it in 1961.  There are now four generations of Salatins walking and working the land of Polyface.  We don’t buy his pork, because they don’t deliver.  If you want it, you have to come and get it.  Salatin thinks we should all get our food a bit closer to home.

The principle at Polyface is that we should respect what nature provides.  You can’t really improve on it.  “Mimicking natural patterns on a commercial domestic scale insures moral and ethical boundaries to human cleverness.”  He also says, “Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig is a foundation for societal health.”  We like Joel Salatin.

Which brings us back to the pigs.  Polyface uses portable fencing to gradually move livestock from one field to the next, ensuring that no pasture gets overworked and allowing time for fields to recover.  After cattle get their fill, he moves in chickens who dine on the grubs and worms left by the cows.  When cows are brought in to a barn for reasons of weather or milking, they walk on a bed of wood chips, sawdust, and old hay.  It gets matted down, so Joel and his crew mixes in corn.  This whole mixture ferments, which becomes very tasty for the pigs.  So as the cows head back to pasture, the pigs move in to turn the entire pile, digging for tasty grains.  This becomes the compost pile for next year’s plantings.  He calls it his “pigaerator.”  When not dining in high cotton, the pigs follow the chickens in the pasture rotation or relax in private oak groves while dining on acorns.  In over 50 years, Polyface has not bought a single bag of chemical fertilizer, planted a seed, or owned a plow.

The farm lets nature and its livestock do the work for them.  And Polyface is a great model for what we expect of our farmer partners.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.