Paul Willis, Niman Ranch Pork Company founder and manager, was honored at the 2012 Chefs Collaborate Summit with the Pathfinder Sustainability Award. The award recognizes a visionary working in the greater food community who has been a catalyst for positive change within the food system through efforts that go beyond the kitchen.
Willis, fourth generation hog farmer, was raising free-range hogs the way his family had for generations. He knew raising pigs traditionally resulted in higher quality and tastier pork but did not know how to get the pigs to market. In 1995, he was introduced to Niman Ranch and shipped 30 pigs to the Bay Area. A number of chefs in San Francisco tasted the pork and were impressed with the quality. With this chef interest, Willis realized there was a market for hogs raised using traditional farming methods and hoped this need would help revitalize sustainable hog farming methods in the Midwest.
In 1996, Willis started building a community of family hog farmers to raise hogs traditionally and humanely for Niman Ranch. Today, the network has grown to over 500 farmers raising hogs to the strictest protocols in the industry:
- Raised outdoors or in deeply bedded pens
- Never given antibiotics or hormones-ever
- No gestation crates or farrowing crates- ever
“I’m truly honored to receive this award and proud to accept on behalf of all the family farmers raising hogs to the highest animal welfare standards for Niman Ranch,” said Paul Willis when he accepted his award.
Other Sustainability Award winners
Foodshed Champion: Lora Lea and Rick Misterly, Quillisascut Farm
Sustainer: Kären Jurgensen, Seattle Culinary Academy
In addition, chefs John Ash, Tom Douglas and Jimmy Schmidt were inducted into the Pioneers Table – the Chefs Collaborative equivalent of the hall of fame.