Beef: it’s what’s for dinner. Pork: the other white meat. Most of us eat meat without much thought, and up until a year or so ago, I was lumped in with “most of us.” Then, this past December, my book club read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, an exploration of our industrial food system. Pollan starts his book explaining how the government subsidized monoculture of corn across the midwest is highly processed into an array of food products (high fructose corn syrup anyone?) or is force-fed to our born-to-eat-grass cows and other farm animals. Pollan describes the life cycle of most American cows, pigs, and poultry and the literal tortures that they face on a daily basis.
I had already read Pollan’s Power Steer article and made the shift to grass-fed beef. Before reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, I was completely unaware that pigs were so cruelly treated in the industrial food system. Did you know that pigs are highly intelligent animals that get depressed when they are held captive in close quarters? Pollan writes,
Premature weaning leaves the pigs with a lifelong craving to suck and chew, a desire they gratify in confinement by biting the tail of the animal in front of them. A normal pig would fight off his molester, but a demoralized pig has stopped caring…. A depressed pig will allow his tail to be chewed on to the point of infection. Sick pigs, being underperforming “production units,” are clubbed to death on the spot. The U.S.D.A.’s recommended solution to the problem is called “tail docking.” Using a pair of pliers (and no anesthetic), most but not all of the tail is snipped off. Why the little stump? Because the whole point of the exercise is not to remove the object of tail-biting so much as to render it more sensitive. Now, a bite on the tail is so painful that even the most demoralized pig will mount a struggle to avoid it.
Needless to say, I was powerfully affected by these facts. I vote with my money and it was time to vote for a sustainable food system. It was time to buy a pig.
I did extensive research before deciding to get my pig at Clark Summit Farm in Tomales, California. This 100% organic farm is about 90 minutes from where I live and they raise “happy” pigs, beef, and chicken.
Liz and her husband Dan run this farm as part hobby, part lifestyle, and part vocation. Liz inherited the 160-acre farm from her family and has been tending it almost daily since she was a little girl. Their farming style is unlike anything you’ll see in the industrial world.
Liz raises about 1,500 chickens that are free range by every definition of the word. These chickens were waddling with the pigs, nestled in the goat pen, strutting along the walking path, huddled near their coops and everywhere in between.
The above picture shows some of the chicken coops on the property. Liz and her husband use a tractor to slide these chickens’ houses around the property so that the chickens have fresh green pasture to eat. To keep the chickens safe from predators, they have several large dogs patrolling the area (see the middle of the right hand side of the picture). Fido’s bark is worse than his bite, but none of the predators know that!
And the cows! Have you ever seen happier, cuter cows? These cows are grass fed from the time they are born until the time they are harvested. The only time they get any grain is as a treat when Liz lures them in to be “harvested.” Liz’s goal is always to make sure that life on the farm is stress free for the animals at all times, even when it’s time to slaughter them. She hires a harvester who kills the animals on the property (no stressful moving of animals from their home to some foreign place) and transports the livestock to the local butcher. While all of this sounds disgusting, it’s a fact of life if we’re going to eat beef, pork, and chicken! At least here we knew that these animals were as happy as they could ever be.
All this talk of harvesting brings us to our purchase for the day. None of these little piglets are our chosen pig, thank goodness. Our pig had been sent to the butcher two weeks ago, so there was no need to fear getting attached to our dinner. These pigs are penned in, but their roaming area was huge. Even so, the pigs liked to huddle together for warmth and companionship. Oh, and that old adage about being as happy as a pig in s***? Liz explained that while pigs do like to frolic in the mud, they do have good hygiene given the chance. Because her pigs do have plenty of room to play, they naturally go downhill to use the bathroom and play in the mud that is uphill. This way they are not wallowing in their own waste.
One of my favorite anecdotes from the day was about a pig that Liz had lent to her son to raise in the suburbs. This pig became family, going through the dog door to use the bathroom outside and sitting around the house like any other pet would. One day the pig wanted attention, but the family was watching TV. The smart little piggy grabbed the remote control off the couch and ran out the door with it, squealing all the way as if to say, “You want it? Come get it!”
And it’s off to the butcher we go! Here are Brant, Mom, Mary Peyton, and Rocky posing with various pig parts. Brant and my mom were lucky – they got to hold the head!
Liz was such an animated story teller! Hours passed like minutes on the farm as she told us tale after tale of her animals and farming practices. All in all, my mom said it best when she noted that anyone that forewent this trip really missed out on a great opportunity. If you’re interested in grass-fed and pasture raised meat, don’t hesitate to check out Liz’s website and join her once-monthly tours. She talked to us for hours, patiently answering all our questions and showing off her animals with motherly pride. Her tours are open to the public, even if you have not purchased any of her meat. But believe me. After you visit this farm, you’ll want to support Liz and the awesome things she is doing here.
Oh, and for those of you who are interested in knowing the costs, my whole pig ended up costing $800 and weighed in at roughly 145 pounds of various pork cuts. Cheap? No. But worth it? Absolutely.
To see even more pictures, click here!