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.
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!