Thursday, October 15, 2009

Small Farms, Big Ideas: The Dirt on Pigs

Today is a good day. Namely it is in the 80's and the weatherman is promising it to drop ten degrees this weekend. It is about time. This Saturday we have the First Coast Slow Food Chapter coming to 29 South for a field trip. Perfect timing, the radishes, carrots, beets, and collards are all sprouting in the garden thanks to Jeannemarie's handiwork, and our first bed of salad mix is almost ready to harvest.

Today also marks the first of my Small Farms, Big Ideas posts. I asked Del Conner of DelKat Family Farm, the pig farmer that supplies the restaurant with the most delicious pork, a few questions about his life and the world of grassroot farming. I feel like he and his fellow farmers have so much to teach about food, life, and American heritage...small farms have spend the past sixty odd years dwindling in numbers, but thanks to localvores across the country there is a rekindling of interest. So, here I give them a platform to share their knowledge...enjoy.

Question 1: Tell me about your farming heritage? How long has your family been farming, and what have you learned from previous generations?
My great-grandfather purchased the property of our farm in the 1800's. He had 15 children, 13 lived to adulthood. They grew vegetables and raised beef, pork, and chickens to provide for the family. They also grew sweet potatoes and made syrup from sugar cane. These were the 2 products they could sell to generate income. My grandfather, David Hodges, was born in 1908 and he was the only person in our family that had a job during the great depression. After the death of his parents he purchased the property from the other children. My grandparents reared me from the time I was 7 years old. My grandfather worked in construction full time. We grew and canned many kinds of vegetables and raised all our own beef, pork, and chicken.

Question 2: Why pigs? What makes the Berkshire breed special?
Pigs are intellegent and inquisitive. Each pig has a different personality. All children love a littler of nursing pigs. Hogs can make me mad because they can destroy anything if given enough time, but the overall enjoyment weighs out the bad. This is a seven day a week responsibility. I could not do this if I did not enjoy it and belive that there is some value. (side note: Del works full time at another job as well). I raise Berkshire hogs. They are one of the few breeds that has not been influenced by factory farming. Packers want animals the same color, size, etc. A good safe healthy piece of meat cannot be produced like parts in a factory. The Berkshire breed originated in England. The meat has some marbling because those traits were not bred out of them as in other breeds. There are minor breeds such as Mulefoot, Hereford, and Tamworth that remain as they were many years ago. Berkshire and these breeds do not fit the mold for confinement agriculture.

Question 3: What traditional methods do you use in raising livestock and why? New methods?
Traditional methods are common sense to me. Let a hog be a hog, outside in the sunshie, freshair, and mud. They have shelter, but hogs love rain and mud. Animals are here to provide meat, but it is our responsibility to treat them humanely.

Question 4: Why is it important to you as a farmer to raise animals without chemicals or other pollutants?
Farm animals do not need medication or antibiotics. Like people, they do not need medicine unless they are sick. Feeding hormones for faster growth is unnatural. Confinement farms feed antibiotics because so many animals are kept in close quarters with poor air quality that one animal will spread a sickness to other animals. Antibiotics should not be fed as a precaution...sunshine is very good at cleansing bacteria.

Question 5: As a small farmer, what are some of the challenges you face today that previous generations of farmers didn't have to deal with? What can consumers do to help?
Government regulations that supposedly protect the consumer basically protect the interests of agribusiness. Government subsidies are welfare for the large Ag corporations. All I would like from the government is for them to leave me alone and not regulate small farms to death. Salmonella and Ecoli always come from large vegatable farms or packing houses that slaugher 20,000 plus animals per day. Consumers should realize that products produced on small family farms are a totally different product than is produced in factory farming.


Anonymous said...

That god for people like that!

XO, Ash

Anonymous said...

Great post, Nan! I'm excited to see what else you have in store. Love you! Claire