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A fair price is a tough thing to peg down. For us a fair price would be covering our expenses, paying us for our labor, and not gouging the customer. Unfortunately, consumers have grown comfortable with artificially low priced goods. We all want cheap. The problem is we don’t fully recognize the actual costs of cheap. Across the US the prices will vary. Right near us there are no large CFAO’s putting downward pressure on local pork. Nor is there a lot of competition in the pastured pork arena (yet.) However we have the difficulty of living in an economically depressed area. We’re in the “rust belt” We have high unemployment, and even now working hours at factories and in manufacturing and even some service sectors are being cut.  Layoffs are happening in many industries. Because of this we’ve had to re-think our prices. Right now we are re-budgeting to try to come up with new prices that can accommodate all the costs, infrastructure, taxes, electric, fencing, housing, we have feed, seed, breeding stock, vet costs, straw, hay, gas to and from the processors and to get supplies. When everything adds up it is VERY difficult to make any profit in pork.

This is part of the problem. Profits are hard to come by and many farmers are happy to break even and not give themselves pay. We were guilty of this at times and we’ve had to step back and smack ourselves. Our biggest competitor is the grocery store.  There is no way we can compete with those prices.  I wouldn’t say they undersell farmers because I honestly don’t believe the quality is there.  WHen you take like for like they are probably charging too much for the quality of some of the meat they are selling.  However, getting consumers to recognize this is part of the battle.  I’m hoping that the HBO special on pigs will drive more business our way once people can get a face to the food and see where it comes from.

Part of our key is marketing.  Marketing to consumers is all about sharing our excitement and our true affection and belief in the product. We are willing to let people come and see the animals for themselves. They are able to recognize the humane treatment. They see the animals express natural behaviors. They can see the vigor in the pigs and see the food they eat. This helps. We constantly explain away the stereotypes of pigs: they are dirty, pig farms stink. None of this is true if treated and raised properly. This ability to talk one-on-one with the end consumer is key.  Ian and I truly live, eat and breath pig here.  We are converting people one pork chop at a time.

The land prior to pigs

The land prior to pigs

Less than 24 hours of pigs on the ground

Less than 24 hours of pigs on the ground

Pigs on the land two full days

Pigs on the land two full days

Ian hating the mud...

Ian hating the mud...

Saturday the pigs arrived at the pasture land from our woods down the road.  Since then it has rained and rained and rained.  Today we had a break in the rain because it turned to snow.  It is supposed to rain Tuesday and Wednesday as well.  The animals and I are sooo not looking forward to it.  I guess its easy to forget how much mud hinders daily life on a farm.  I know I was sick of the snow and cold but overall having it cold and dry and frozen is easier on all of us than having wet and cold and mud.

Because of the mud I added more straw to the huts tonight as I wanted to make sure that the girls were able to keep cozy and dry.  Prior to getting the port-a-huts we always had huts with floors.  These proved to be terribly difficult to move and sanitize hence the port-a-huts.  However, when it comes to mud nothing beats a floor.  I figure we’ll need to add a bale every other day if the rain keeps up.  That way the ground builds up a straw pack keeping everything upabove the mud level.  I’ve recently bought  straw at 4.95 a bale because we needed it (hay just isn’t as good for bedding when its muddy plus the pigs eat a lot of it, leaving them with less bedding)  With the straw they are much less likely to eat it and it holds up better in the wet than does hay.  Luckily I found a man selling hay for $2 a bale.  I told him I’d take all he has.  This weekend we are getting the 50 bales he has figuring the money will be well spent.

We still don’t have a clue when the pigs will definately farrow.  Tomorrow is the full moon.  The girls are due anytime after the 12th.  I know I saw a boar mount each of the tamworths the day that they were put together.  I also saw one of the old spots breeding as late as January 18th.  This means that the piglets could start coming as early as the 12th by the math and then as late as April 13th.  Its always a waiting game this time of year.

Speaking of waiting, the goats are bagging up real well.  I still have two weeks until the scheduled kidding date for Riley one of the LaMancha does.  She will be a first freshener and is  due the 21st.  She has an udder that really impreses me.  This is my first time with dairy goats but I think she is looking huge.  Her ligaments are still really strong so I don’t expect her to kid soon.   I just don’t know how much larger an udder can get on a goat.  If it keeps going, in two weeks time it will be weigh as much as her!!!  Rileys udder 2 weeks to scheduled due date

Side view of the LaMancha udder 2 weeks till due date

Side view of the LaMancha udder 2 weeks till due date

Since I had a bit of time stuck in the house while sick, I re-listened to some of my CD’s from the PASA conference.  One particularly interesting CD was Jerry Brunetti’s Talk on the healing value of food and the importance of good soils to increase nutrients and minerals in said foods.

A bit of background, “In 1999, Jerry was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and given as little as six months to live without aggressive chemotherapy. He instead chose a holistic path of nutrition, detoxification and immune modulation and applied his vast experience with farming and animal nutrition to his own health.”
I’ve posted a youtube link to one of his talks.  I completely recommend that you have a sit down listen as you will be inspired.

Several months back we received a copy of King Corn in the mail via our Netflix membership.  This was a fun and interesting documentary and we would recommend it.  I checked out the website today and found that they have done some spoofs on the corn refiners association commercials that promote High Fructose Corn Syrup as a “natural” product good for your kids and your lover.  Here is the original Corn Refiner’s versions.

And her is the spoof. 

The original versions definitely present corn syrup as benign at best and imply if you are questioning if you should use it you are just silly.

To me the fact that the process of converting corn to corn syrup is what makes it inherently unhealthy.  The process includes the use of sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid.  According to Wikipedia, “Sulfur dioxide is an allergen to which some consumers are sensitive. SO2 is associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, and premature death…Concentrated hydrochloric acid (fuming hydrochloric acid) forms acidic mists. Both the mist and the solution have a corrosive effect on human tissue, with the potential to damage respiratory organs, eyes, skin, and intestines. Upon mixing hydrochloric acid with common oxidizing chemicals, such as sodium hypochlorite (bleach, NaClO) or permanganate (KMnO4), the toxic gas chlorine is produced.

With the process of making the HFCS in mind, how could anyone consider it a healthy alternative.  Though we have not eliminated all sources of HFCS in our diet. (Its in sooooo many processed foods) We have eliminated soda pop and sweetened drinks to start.  In addition we make as much of our own foods as we can.  Though there is a time element involved this does mean that we know what we are eating.

I challenge everyone to check to see if there is HFCS in any of the foods you eat this week and keep track of the percentage of foods that do vs. do not have them.  Then try to lower your percentage next week.

Tonight Ian and I were discussing our view and political leanings and how we may be perceived by others.  Ian seems to think we may be seen as radical food extremists.  I put forth the suggestion that perhaps activist may be a better term.  He still did not like being called activist, and perhaps we aren’t quite there yet as we aren’t hanging banners from our house touting the benefits of fresh food.  I think the conversation ended with me suggesting that he just explain that he is a person concerned with the inability to access good heathy food which was raised in a sustainable manner.  Though this is long winded it encompasses much of our concerns without a label which may turn others off from listening to us.  We live in a less progressive region in the rust belt between Pittsburgh and Buffalo so sometimes these conversations are difficult and met with looks of either amusement at our silliness or horror for our lack of perceived patriotism.  

Tomorrow we have the goal of making sure that we talk to at least one person about how our country was the only nation to vote against the human right to food.  

By a vote of 180 in favour to 1 against (United States) and no abstentions, the Committee also approved a resolution on the right to food, by which the Assembly would “consider it intolerable” that more than 6 million children still died every year from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday, and that the number of undernourished people had grown to about 923 million worldwide, at the same time that the planet could produce enough food to feed 12 billion people, or twice the world’s present population. (See Annex III.)

By the terms of the text, the Assembly would express concern that, in many countries, girls were twice as likely as boys to die from malnutrition and childhood diseases and that twice as many women as men were estimated to suffer from malnutrition.  Accordingly, it would have the Assembly encourage all States to take action to address gender inequality and discrimination against women, including through measures to ensure that women had equal access to resources, including income, land and water, so as to enable them to feed themselves and their families.  By further terms of the draft, the Assembly would urge Member States to promote and protect the rights of indigenous people, who have expressed in different forums their deep concerns over the obstacles and challenges faced in the full enjoyment of the right to food.


After the vote, the representative of the United States said he was unable to support the text because he believed the attainment of the right to adequate food was a goal that should be realized progressively.  In his view, the draft contained inaccurate textual descriptions of underlying rights.   

We hope that by informing one person of this that they in turn may bring up the conversation with a peer or co-worker.  Any discussions we can have in regards to world wide food sovereignty is a step in the right direction.

In 2005 Monsanto applied for a patent for pig genentics which are found in nearly all pigs grown around the world.  My pigs would be Monsanto’s pigs if this happens.  I cannot find if the patent was approved but even if it hasn’t been Monsanto is well on its way to owning the worldwide food supply. As recently as January of this year Monsanto filed suit against Michigan Farmers for using soybean seed without paying royalties.  Now for a non-farmer this may seem a simple concept (you pay if you use their seed)  However, what is not taken into account is the pollen drift can alter a crop and if you save seeds from your crop which has been affected by pollen from a neighbor’s Monsanto patented crops you can get sued.  This has been happening with an all to scary frequency around the world.

Now consider the impact on farmers if a gene sequence found naturally in all pigs is patented.  Will I have to pay royalties to Monsanto each time my sows give birth?  Will I be sued for using “their” gene sequence even though I’m currently raising heritage breeds?

Should a company even be able to “own” the building blocks of life?  Even if you aren’t a religious person, the sound of this is quite frightening.  If you follow on the logical sequence, Monsanto who owns 90% of the worlds GM seeds can easily control who gets seeds, which countries or people have the ability or right to use them.  What better control over a people than to control their food supply.

I highly urge everyone to read up on Monsanto and other large biotech and corporate agricultural companies.  It will be an eye opener for you.

If you don’t want to support Monsanto’s food monopoly you need to insist on non-gmo products.  Insist that your meat comes from animals not feed GMO feeds.  Buy locally and do your part to protect the food system from corporate biotech firms.

On a lighter note our piggies are looking good today.  They were napping when Ian went to check on them, but soon woke up to take a morning stroll since it is a sunny beautiful morning. Sometimes just going out to be with the animals can help you forget all which is wrong with the world.

The pigs do suprisingly well in all seasons. Even on cold days the get up an enjoy a good walk.

The pigs do suprisingly well in all seasons. Even on cold days the get up an enjoy a good walk.

Serious Eats had a contest to win a box of bacon related goodies. There were tons of excellent entries. Below is just a sampling…
clipped from www.seriouseats.com
Pigs, I know, are much maligned
Rarely named as Valentines
And scarcely recognized as fine
In spite of all the smarts of swine.
Swill they do, and snort they must,
Even so, they’ve perks robust.
They live in life with clever quickness
Heads betrayed by portly thickness
Ere they’re ended–porky picnics.
Lo, in death, elevation
Above the mud, now my salvation
Roasted shoulder, sausage, bacon,
Dearest Pig–my tongue’s elation.
blog it
Rich in color, rich in flavor.

Rich in color, rich in flavor.

During the week I decided to pull out some porkchops and have them for dinner. That is one benefit of having a farm.  If you aren’t sure what to have for dinner you just go to the freezer and pick out something tasty.  Ian has become a fan of a brine recipe in the book Charcuterie and when I got home he had the meat resting in the brine solution.  I was appreciative of his effort so I finished up the meal and we had some super tasty chops.  I took this picture after taking it out from the brine but before coating the chops in a whole wheat flour and pan searing them to get them ready for the oven.

When we have shown people our pork the comment we most often get is, “I thought pork was the other white meat.”  This should not be the case.  Pork even by the industry standards, should not be white or pale in color when raw.  The image above is a bit dark in representation, the color was actually a bit less of a dark red.  If I was being critical I would have liked to see a bit more marbeling.  That being said, the meat was juicy and tender and remains so even if not being brined however that was method of preparation that Ian chose that night.

Almost daily I research new recipes and I try to keep abreast of various pork and pig related topics.  In looking for pork color charts to link to, I found a nifty site showing “Hot new cuts.”  I found this to be a great advertisement for pork given that in most people’s minds pork is not necessarily an exciting meat.  I really like the idea of promoting new cuts because it shows the meats versatility.  Many people see pork as a comfort or homestyle food and don’t experiment with it using various flavors other than the drippings and gravy.  One of our favorite flavors to pair with pork is curry.  Combining the pork with curry flavors is something that you pretty much have to do at home because you won’t find many Indian restaurants serving a pork dopiaza or jalfrezi.  In addition we live in a region where there is very little ethinic diversity and the nearest Indian is well over an hour away.

Ok, getting back to the chops shown above, I mentioned before that I would like to see more marbling.  I think production wise the fact that these pigs were butchered about a month later than planned lowered the overall fat content(Note to self: remember to consider hunting season’s impacts on your local butchers’ schedules).  The pigs finished in heavy snow and extreme cold.  We wanted and anticipated that they would be finished just after the glut of apples and acorns but again due to scheduling this did not occur.  December and January butchering was not planned.  Forages were down because it was later in season.  Regardless, the meat turned out great just leaner than we had hoped due to the lower amounts of forage and extra energy expendature due to weather conditions.  This leaness, to some, is a great thing and many customers really appreciate the less fatty meat.  However, for our taste we prefer a bit more fat.  There was some marbeling but we would have liked to see more.  I am excited to see and compare the next batch which will be finsihed on pasture and some early season forests.

I received an e-mail with this supposed ad from the 1950’s. The advertisement is reportedly a British spoof and not really a historic ad however, it did get me thinking about Lard. This past week I had the opportunity to try a cured delight, Lardo. Lardo is the back fat from a pig and that fat has been salt cured. Lard, as we think of it is pig fat which has been rendered. Both start with fat, however, each turn out to be completely different end products. Lard, when properly made can be an excellent fat product for pastries or for cooking in general. Lardo on the other hand is a rosemary herbed culinary delight, excellent on a crostini, or even on a nice slice of bread. I’ve read somewhere that it even has 40% less saturated fat than butter.

Now the slice of lardo that I had was not on bread, but held in my husbands hand melting away when I arrived at the end of my seminar. Nonetheless, it was more than delicious enough to make me decide that our next gloucestershire old spot that gets butchered will be turned into lardo along with the other charcuterie delights.

For a great fun read on lard, check out this blog.

clipped from www.pbase.com

1950s? - Lard Information Council advertisement
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I’m just writing to let everyone know that we just got back from 4 days of sharing thought provoking, energizing, AMAZING sustainable agricultural information at the PASA conference.  Ian and I are so excited we don’t even know where to begin.  The conference theme was the worldwide search for food sovereignty: finding your foodshed.  If you have never heard of Raj Patel, he is an food activist/economist/journalist (made Ian proud to be british) check out http://www.rajpatel.org/  He presented an energetic and yet poignant speech on the economy of food.  Apart from that Ian attended a two day sustainable forestry workshop and I on beginning cheese-making. Throughout the main conference we split our time between various topics from training your livestock to eat and love weeds to making charcoal and using it to increase soil fertility.  In addition we bough CDs of lectures that we were unable to attend so we have nearly 24 hours of conference we can appreciate from the comfort of our home.

A snippet of the variety of information we learned:
-Cheese-making equipment/facilities are EXPENSIVE to get to be able licensed to sell.
-There is a whole new (safer way) to cut down trees than what most of us were taught
-People will come on to your land to plant ginseng (stealth gardening-kinda like some people do with marijuana)
-Mineral deficiencies are really harming us all and we need to eat more nutrient dense foods.  The only way to do that is to have healthy soil.  PS you need animal protein to get some minerals and nutrients that just aren’t available in veg.
-According to PA’s buy fresh buy local people ” if every household in PA spent $10 a week on regionally produced food, $48 million dollars would stay in the local economy each week or $2.25 Billion per year.”
-We need to be doing value added processes to our pork (we’ve been looking into charcuterie) an would love info on who to talk to in NY as to how to go about doing this 😉
-Even farms as small as two acres using poor management (fertilizer, pesticide, herbicides etc and runnoff) in a watershed can wreck havoc the ecosystem killing aquatic wildlife(check out bernard sweeny’s research http://www.stroudcenter.org/about/bernardsweeney.htm)
-We need to use riparian buffer systems (i wish I had the money to do proper fencing on the new land)
-Raw milk from a good clean dairy using proper sanitation and feeding their animals good grass fed diets TASTES great and is good for you- there are beneficial enzymes in it milk are killed with pasteurization. (4 days of drinking raw milk and we are doing fine)

Ian and I are discussing our plans/goals for our farm and how to implement some of the action steps we have taken away from this conference and we hope to share this with you in the near future.