Help the coolest pig farm in the world

All photos by Walter Jeffries

Sugar Mountain Farm, owned by Walter Jeffries and his stellar family, is what you want a pig farm to be. Pig range freely in a series of padocks, rotated frequently to avoid over-stressing the land. Walter plants root vegetables, like turnips, in some of the fields for the pigs to forage in the fall. In addition, they get a varied diet of hay, whey (leftovers from a local cheesemaking plant), and high-protein and -calorie treats, such as expired peanut butter from the Ben and Jerry’s factory. Pigs are not castrated and do not have their tails or teel trimmed, as is usual even on family farms. These pigs are smart, lively, and well-respected. They live life like pigs – not boxed into crates on a concrete pad – and the meat is (I hear) fabulous.

Walter and his family are pretty fabulous, too. Walter’s a master-of-all-trades, from raising and breeding hogs to building his family’s barrel-vaulted “tiny cottage” house. His wife and kids (especially the older boys) help out on the farm, learning animal husbandry and construction as part of their home schooling. I have come to admire the whole clan immensely as I’ve followed their blog over the last couple years. It’s tempting to compare Walter to an undiscovered Joel Salatin, but where Salatin build chicken tractors, Jeffries pours concrete.

Design and image by Walter Jeffries

Walter’s next endeavor is to build an on-site, USDA-inspected hog processing facility where he can slaughter, cut, and cure the meat from his own hogs. This facility will be tiny – 1500 square feet – and he estimates the cost will be about 6% of the cost of a typical “small” USDA facility ($150,000 vs. $2.4 million). Currently, 47% of his sales go directly to the butcher shops, which routinely mis-cut, waste, lose, or allow meat to spoil. He also drives 600+ miles per week dropping off and picking up pigs. Building his own on-farm facility would circumvent all these issues. Walter’s also generously offered to share the plans with anyone who wants them – meaning folks around the world could benefit from his expertise and help their own farms keep more dollars in the family.

Currently, the plan and foundation are in place, but there’s a snag. Banks just aren’t lending, even to someone like Walter with stellar credit. The tiny cottage is too small for a second mortgage, and banks are just not taking risks right now.

I am so impressed with the Jeffries family’s operation, and his generosity for sharing knowledge and plans that can help local farmers make a good living. I want to help them out in thanks for all the good work they’ve done, how much they’ve taught me, how they model sustainable farming practices, and the vision Walter and his family have for the future.

So here’s what I suggest.

  • If you have a local food lover in your life, give them the gift of a small slice of a great farm by making a donation to the Sugar Mountain Farm Fund Drive in their honor. Walter pledges to “pay it forward” to others!
  • If you live in Vermont, order a pig (or half) for yourself. Or, find it at local retailers and restaurants (scroll down to “retail cuts”).
  • If you live far from Vermont, order a pig and designate it to be delivered to a food bank close to the farm.
  • If you’re independently wealthy, give Walter a loan! He’ll pay you back in five years. Really.
  • If you, too, are strapped for cash in this crazy economy, “signal boost” this post by reposting it to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking mechanisms.

Here’s to sustainable farming! Do you know of amazing farms like this in your area? Tell us about them!

Emily

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3 Comments

  1. December 5, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    That’s pretty amazing. I hope they can raise the funds for the new facility. $150k is chump change to a big processor, but a major investment for us little folks.

  2. sugarmtnfarm said,

    December 11, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Hi Emily,

    Thank you for this great write-up about our project. Winter snows are here, we just got about 14″ in the last couple of days, but we continue forward. We’re about to pour more concrete. The insulated forms we built make it so we can work into the cold weather. If we don’t close in before the deep freeze sets in then we’ll resume construction in the spring when the weather warms. It’s a process and we’ll get there.

    Cheers,

    -Walter
    Sugar Mountain Farm
    Pastured Pigs & Sheep
    in Vermont

  3. November 17, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    A progress update, Emily. We got a loan from a local individual that allowed us to pour more concrete and are now up to the tops of our formwork. We’ve put the project to bed for the winter as we get our farm ready for the coming cold months. In the spring we’ll start working on the butcher shop again. Visit this link to see the latest:

    http://flashweb.com/blog/2010/11/butcher-shop-upper-wall-pour.html


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