At a recent event in New York, someone told me they had never met anyone with a stronger sense of place than my father, Paul Willis. I have been thinking about that comment for awhile and believe it is an attribute so many family farmers in the Midwest have in common. I began thinking about my own sense of place and feelings about being raised on a farm in Iowa. Having lived in other parts of the country – Iowa will always be home to me.
This brings me to my latest visit to a hog farming family who supply sustainably raised hogs to Niman Ranch. Richard and Delores Blackford have been selling pigs to Niman Ranch for well over 10 years. Now their daughter and son-in- law, Carolyn and Marty Osterman, are running the hog farming operations. Arriving on a bright summer.
morning, Carolyn and Marty were busy doing chores. Their teenage daughters, Mollie and Katie, invited me inside. After visiting a bit, I was struck by how much these girls reminded me of myself when I was their age. Soon Carolyn arrived fresh from working outside, it was great to catch up with another farmer’s daughter and compare our experiences working with our fathers.
Soon, three generations of farmers, including Richard and Delores, headed out on a farm tour of the pasture. While walking through the pasture, they explained and showed me how they made an even stronger commitment to the pasture-based system in recent years. The sows lay sprawled out nursing their piglets in the morning sun. The pasture is rich with clumps of grass and A-framed pig houses speckled the landscape. A tractor sits out in the field when it’s not being used, providing nice shade for the sows and their piglets.
As someone once said to me, whenever you try to speed up a traditionally slow meticulous process, is when things go wrong, but if you stick with traditional tried and true practices magic happens and something uniquely beautiful is created. Through the Blackford and Osterman’s use of heritage breeds and a keen understanding of raising pigs the traditional way, their family farm, along with all of the other family farmers who supply Niman Ranch, produce uniquely beautiful pork with luscious marbling and flavor. A profile that only comes from traditional farming methods. This is a great reminder about many things in life. Slow down. Take your time and you might just make something uniquely beautiful happen.