It’s been pretty quiet on the farm this January. The land is covered in a blanket of snow and temperatures occasionally dip to -40 below zero with the wind chill. Our farmers keep pretty busy checking hog waters and ensuring they aren’t frozen, cleaning out farm buildings and adding bedding for farm animals to keep them warm and cozy. Evenings are filled with after school activities like basketball, band and choir concerts, wrestling meets and the like. Playing Scrabble or card games is also popular this time of year. Anything you can do indoors to keep warm!
One favorite activity among farmers is perusing the latest seed catalogs. As they arrive in the mail, we begin preparing for spring planting. Seed Savers, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, puts out one of our favorite catalogs. It’s fun to see what we can find – anything from purple carrots to purple potatoes. More importantly, planting and saving these heirloom varieties perpetuate diversity in our gardens as well as our diet. Sophia has always loved finding unique vegetables for our garden; it’s a great way to get children interested in growing things and eating their vegetables. Offering carrots that are purple, red or white is much more interesting than the expected orange.
Heirloom varieties promote diversity and protect us from becoming too dependent on any one particular seed. This philosophy flows through to our hog operation as well. We have always used a three-way rotational cross of select heritage breed pigs to capture the best quality from each. These genetics, along with our humane raising practices and vegetarian diet, come together to produce the best tasting pork doing only one of these things will not produce the same results. Just as the genetics play an important role in getting the traits you want, so are the animal husbandry practices employed by the farmer. Pigs raised outdoors on pasture or in deeply bedded systems with clean water, air and plenty of room to behave naturally produce a wonderfully clean flavor of old world pork. These pigs get exercise while their fat builds as needed to get through harsh Iowa winters. Heritage breeds produce pork that is darker, meatier, tenderer and full of intramuscular fat packed with flavor.
My dad always said that he preferred to raise pigs the old fashioned way, a way that best emulates how a pig would behave in nature when left to its own devices.