Thursday, July 1, 2010

From Farm to Fork Part 2: Ranch and Garden Tour

Have you ever been to a farm or ranch? How about owning one while working a full time professional job? That's what our friends, Marie and Shane are doing out in Northern California. Marie and Shane recently had us over for an amazing four course pork dinner made from Mangalitsa pigs that they raise and butcher themselves on their 40 acres!

We aren't sure what's more incredible: the fact that they have full time professional jobs (science and marketing) or that they have pretty much taught themselves how to do all of this. They've built the shelters, feeding equipment and pens themselves and taken classes on how to humanely and appropriate butcher a pig- not to mention all of the food preparation they've learned. Check out our previous post where you can see what they are doing with food and beer (yes, they brew their own!). In addition to raising the pigs, they are growing a tremendous garden of fruits, berries, vegetables and even grapes! It's astounding.

The pigs they are raising are called Mangalitsa and you'll notice right away that they have curly hair! These pigs are prized for their quality meat and they take quite a while to mature. You'll find the pork at high end restaurants like Chez Panisse and One Market. Marie and Shane are the only raisers of these pigs in Northern California and while they can butcher for themselves to eat, they sell the pigs to these restaurants to butcher as they wish. Those pigs are slaughtered an approved USDA facility.

On their ranch, they've pastured the pigs and given them shelter as well as plenty of mud to wallow. They have spritzers to cool the pigs and create an even bigger mud wallow in the summer.

You'll notice right away that the pigs really root up the land creating lumpy earth in place of green pastures.

They almost blend right in!

The pigs are separated by age groups so the adults don't pick on the little guys. Currently they have three different age groups.

Of course, the piglets start out as cute little guys without all of the curly hair but they grow pretty quickly.

This brave one came up to say hello but most of the piglets were pretty shy. The older pigs weren't shy at all and liked to be scratched.

This little one took in some sunshine.

So how did we feel seeing these pigs and their lives and then having dinner that was created from them? I felt grateful for the privilege and glad that these animals were treated with respect and dignity. Seeing their pasture with the open space, sunshine, and mud- they seemed content and relaxed. And knowing our friends, we were assured that they were honoring these animals throughout their lives and afterwards, as they looking to use all parts of the animal in cooking and eating. We couldn't help but be impressed yet also realize how disconnected most of us are as a society from our own food. We've been invited to the next time that Marie and Shane slaughter and butcher a pig and I'd like to go. It sounds like a tremendous amount of work, possibly intimidating but also a very real and honest experience of what it means to eat meat.

Have you been to a farm or ranch? Have you ever slaughtered and butchered an animal?

How connected do you feel to your food?