Pork and apples go together like…pork and apples! Pork chops and applesauce, pork loin and baked apples, roast pork and sauteed apples, potatoes and cabbage stir fried with ham and tart green apples. But a local organic apple orchard is re-discovering an even older pairing: hogs and apple orchards.
Apple Schram orchards (sorry, no web site that I can find…), run by Jane Bush near Charlotte, Michigan, has long supplied SE Michigan with organic apples and cider. In 2003, they started raising hogs, too, in a very impressive bit of orchard ecology. I spoke with Jane on the phone this morning – I hope you’ll be as impressed with her setup as I am.
Details of hogs, apples, and phenomenal sausage after the cut…
Apple Schram orchards are certified organic. The pork is not 100% organic, but it’s pretty close, and no antibiotics, growth hormones, etc. are used. The hogs are very healthy and rarely need medical attention, and non-chemical interventions are used in many cases. For example, internal parasites, when they occur, are controlled with diotomaceous earth and wood ash.
The pigs are always free to roam in the pasture. Bush uses movable fencing to herd them into fresh pasture every day, so they don’t stay long enough to tear up the soil too much or over-graze. Their favorite food is red clover, from sprouts to flowers. Bush also plants turnips, which the pigs root up in their natural foraging behavior. All apple pulp left over from cider making, goes to the hogs. They also get some grain (soaked for a few days first) to supplement their forage diet. The spelt and rye are grown by Apple Schram; non-GMO corn comes from a neighbor.
A couple times a year, the pigs are let into the orchard to clean up fallen apples. This is especially important during the summer after the “June drop” – the natural thinning of the unripe fruits. The fallen apples harbor the Plum curculio, an immensely destructive weevil that’s the bane of orchardists. The pigs play a critical role in keeping the trees healthy by eating the fallen apples – helping eliminate the need for pesticides.
The hogs are processed in a USDA-inspected facility near Battle Creek. No nitrates, MSG, or other additives are used. Bush doesn’t sell a myriad of cuts – mostly chops, hams, bacon (smoked but not cured), and sausage.
And oh, let me tell you about the sausage! It is truly divine. My favorite is the bratwurst, which has black pepper and fennel, and she also makes hot and sweet Italian sausage and 1/4 lb. sausage patties. Jane tells me there are a couple reasons why her sausage is so good: first, it’s “whole-hog” sausage, meaning she makes it with really good cuts of meat, not just leftovers. All those loins, roasts,and such go right into the sausage. But the real secret is the hogs’ diet. All that fresh food, and especially the apples, give the pork a richness that can’t be matched by industrially-raised pork.
So, want to get your own? Here are a few places to look:
- Year around Saturdays 8am-2pm Lansing City Market, Lansing, Michigan.
- May-Oct Saturdays 8am-2pm Meridian Farmers’ Market, Okemos, Michigan.
- Wed 2:30pm-6:30pm Allen St Farmers’ Market, Lansing, Michigan.
- People’s Food Co-Op, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- Arbor Farms Natural Foods, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
A couple of interesting final notes:
- The name “Apple Shram” is a family name – Jane’s mother’s maiden name was Schram, and she bought her orchard from an uncle nearly 20 years ago. Remember – “Schram” rhymes with “ham”!
- Jane Bush is also the organizer behind the Michigan egg cooperative Grazing Fields, which are also available at the Ann Arbor Food Co-op, among other places. I’m really impressed with the extent of community Jane has built in this region. She’s given strength and options to Southern Michigan farmers through cooperative distribution systems, opening new markets, and raising awareness of the food treasures grown right here. Thanks, Jane.