Monday, June 27, 2005

This little piggie went to market, part 1: The Farm Posted by Hello

So my boyfriend J.,* friend and co-worker C., C.’s adorable 18-month-old, and I all got in the car and trundled out to Petersham, MA to get our pig.

Petersham is a lovely small New England town, heavy on the quaint, just east of the Quabbin. The center of town is picture-perfect, complete with bandstand, white churches, and a country store that sells ice cream. We got to know it pretty well, seeing as we forgot the directions and so had to drive back and forth down the main road a half-dozen times before we found someone who could point us to Mamashoe Organic Farm.

But we did find it, at last, and pulled up to find the farmer and his adorable daughter waiting for us on a tree stump.

Now, you may have in your mind an image of a small New England farmer, a taciturn Ethan Frome type of character, or maybe something a little more charming, a wrinkled Norman Rockwell gentleman in overalls with a pipe. Your image would be a bit off. Our pig farmer is a loquacious former Cambridge hipster, who used to have a band and almost surely went to Burning Man, and now raises hogs, goats and chickens. I found this deeply inspirational, possibly because I have never managed to be hip enough to be readily identified as a hipster nor have I had the courage to chuck all for the farming life.

And then of course there was the farm.

This family is raising food in the most balanced and environmentally sound way imaginable. They’ve planted paw-paws and other tree. They use goats and pigs to help clear land for planting, and use a moveable chicken coop to spread around the chicken manure while giving the chicken fresh land to range upon. They’re clearing invasive foreign plants like honeysuckle. They’re making raw milk goat cheese and kefir. They do their own smoking of meat. They are homesteading for real, just a little over an hour outside Cambridge.

And then there are the pigs.

The pigs are kept in the woods, just like the Spanish do when raising pigs for their famous ham. The farmer has used electric fencing to mark off three acres of land for the pigs to forage in and supplements their foraging with organic feed. He moves the fencing to different areas over time to give the hogs new land to explore. These were really happy pigs.

And magnificent. There was something amazing about these creatures, so strong and primal. They belonged in the woods – you could see the wild boar in their ancestry. We watched them use their powerful snouts to burrow in the ground, all the time making rough snorts and deep snuffles and grunts. As J. said late, “You know, I could have looked at those pigs all day.” Me, too.

And, um, cough, they make great pork.

So I got home and made pork chops for dinner. And, no, seeing the pigs didn’t make me feel bad about eating the pork chops.** Seeing the pigs living in the woods, with room to roam, eating acorns as well as feed, rolling in good clean mud, made me feel better about eating this pork. What I felt bad about was the bacon that came with my restaurant breakfast the next morning. There’s no excuse for raising those noble beasts in the horrifying conditions of factory farms. But at least there are some people raising pigs conscientiously, and we can support them in a thoroughly pleasant way by buying their excellent pork.

*I’m being all Victorian with the initials and all because using full, real names on the internet weirds me out. So I’m paranoid.

** None of the pigs appeared to be named Wilbur. I am sure this helped.

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