This week’s Natural Cures Blog Carnival is highlighting “Buy Local Foods” as a wellness strategy. Since the recent outbreak of swine flu likely started at a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation), it makes sense to look for safer sources of pork for the family table. Hartkeisonline.com presents a guest blogger, an innovative pork farmer in Virginia, who has a lot to teach both farmers and consumers about the healthy way to raise bacon, ham and pork chops!
How Farmers Can Turn Their Forests into Profitable, Humane Habitat and Forage for Pork Production
by Guest Contributor, Bill Jones, Buffalo Creek Farm
There is an British TV program called ‘You are what you eat’. In the program unhealthy people are criticized and humiliated for eating unhealthy food. It is terrible television, but the underlying message that what is eaten directly effects health applies not only to people but also to pigs.
The diet of pigs raised on conventional farms is provided solely by the farmer. It is mostly corn and soy, but also contains animal fat, minerals and antibiotics. The antibiotic acts as a growth stimulant as the pig does not need to waste energy developing an immune system to fight infections. Because conventional farms confine pigs if one pig gets sick the whole herd becomes ill very rapidly, so antibiotics have to be administered daily to prevent this. Obviously the lifestyle of conventionally raised pigs is far from natural.
I was working in Germany a few years ago and my wife and I took our children to a wild animal park. One of the animals we saw was a European wild boar. The boar were allowed to run in a large fenced area of forest, and could eat whatever they could find. It made sense to allow a pig to eat a natural diet consisting mostly of things that people could not or would not eat, rather than feed it corn. When we moved to our farm I wanted to try and give our pigs as natural a diet as possible. What we have found is that if pigs are allowed to forage for natural food in the forest no antibiotics are necessary. The pigs don’t get sick. Also as the population density is usually 1.5 to 2 pigs an acre the risk of disease spreading through the herd is greatly reduced.
Pigs are omnivorous. They will eat grass and other leafy greens. They dig for roots and insects. In the Autumn they eat acorns and other nuts, and fruits such as persimmons. Although I have not seen it myself I have been told that pigs will eat snakes. There were a lot of snakes when we first moved to the farm but they have become an increasingly rare sight. If a pig were to find a nest (either avian or reptilian) they would eat the eggs. This rich and varied diet definitely influences the flavor of the meat, and because the pigs have worked for their food the meat has a denser texture. When our pork is compared to conventional pork customers say that our pork is much better.
There are a number of additional benefits that accrue from raising pigs in a the forest apart from the superior taste of the meat. They keep the forest floor clear of undergrowth that can restrict the growth of tree saplings. At a low population density pigs are accidental foresters. They inadvertently bury acorns and other nuts into the leaf litter. These germinate into stronger and healthier sapling. The forest the pigs live in surrounds our home and garden. We have no problems with deer eating our fruits, vegetables and other plants. I am reliably informed by local hunters that the pigs frighten the deer. It may be that the sensitive noses of the deer are overwhelmed by the smell of the pigs, although at the population densities we have human noses cannot smell them. As the pigs are born and raised outdoors there is no need to build, maintain, and air-condition hog
houses. If a pig on the farm gets hot it finds a cool, wet place and goes to sleep. If a pig gets cold it cuddles up with a few porcine pals. On chilly nights it is common to find 15 or 20 pigs in a pile keeping warm together. There is also no pollution problem on our farm. The pigs waste gets spread throughout the woods. There are no toxic ‘lagoons’, and no smell that is a common feature of conventional pig farms. Our farm may not be perfect but I believe it is much closer to a sustainable model of pork production than that found in industrial agriculture.
So the moral would seem to be that whether you are a hog or a human, ‘You are what you eat’.
Bill Jones is a 46 year old farmer who graduated with a BSC degree in Biochemistry from the University of London. He was a computer programmer/analyst for 20 years, and began farming 4 years ago when the family moved from England to America for his wife’s job as a college professor at Sweetbrier College in Southwest Virginia. He and his wife have 4 children. Their farm, Buffalo Creek Farm is in Dillwyn, VA. Currently, Bill sells his meat at the Charlottesville City Market on Saturdays, and the Charlottesville Meade Park market on Wednesdays. He has monthly drop offs in Silver Spring, Vienna and Alexandria. To join their farm buyers club or to locate their Virginia farmers markets, visit their Babes in the Woods website at forestfed.com.
Note from Kimberly: An HBO Documentary uncovered deplorable conditions at factory pig farms, here is a post I did challenging small farmers to take marketshare from those who are abusing our animal friends: Ten Billion is a Big Market–What Piece of that Do Small Farms Want?
Now it is your turn!
Join in the carnival fun. Share your blog posts or comments about the importance of buying local foods. See our Natural Cures Tuesday page for details.
Our first carnival player is Kelly the Kitchen Kop with a post called Sweet Summer Saturdays–who not only shops farmers markets on Saturday’s, but grows her own food in a backyard garden!
Our second carnival player is Local Nourishment blog, this blogger recently saw the film, Food, Inc., and she waxes eloquent about why to eat local.