As the cold weather really begins to set in I’m reminded again of how cyclical life is when you’re making an attempt to reconnect to the land upon which all of us depend, whether we see or want to admit it or not. And for us here at Parker Family Farm the current stage of that cycle involves the beginning of the end for our yearly pasture and woodland raised pigs.
In keeping with my efforts to return to traditional methodologies upon which successful, sustainable farms have existed for literally thousands of years, I fatten our pog (the term for a herd of pigs for you trivia nuts who like to have people roll their eyes at you at parties) on whatever is at hand in the fall in great quantity. Here in Maine that has traditionally meant two things, pumpkins and apples.
I don’t yet have the orchard of my dreams, though every year I plant more and more fruit trees and pine longingly for the farm I’ll have in fifteen years, a farm bursting with dozens of varieties of chemical free heirloom and rare varieties of apples, pears, peaches, etc. So if I wanted to fatten our heritage/cross pigs on apples, I’d have to buy them. I buy a lot of apples from the wonderful family orchard we frequent every fall and I love caring for our pigs but you can bet I’m not wasting purchased, perfect apples on them. However, my in-law’s farm is bursting with pumpkins and squash each fall as that is a major cash crop at their farm. Know what happens to pumpkins that aren’t sold by Halloween? They sit in the field attracting rodents like squirrels, chipmunks and rats. More devastatingly, they attract deer. Know what happens when a deer finds a field full of pumpkins in the fall? That deer tells its friends, cousins, sisters, brothers, children and grandchildren about this amazingly easy access food source that crops up (pun intended) every fall. Not great if you want picture perfect pumpkins. So my father-in-law is eager to get rid of all the ones in the field that haven’t sold. And this is how, traditionally, farmers fattened their hogs in this area. So that’s how I do it too.
Every fall at this time you can find piles and piles of pumpkins just this side of the electric fence and usually a substantially smaller pile just that side of the electric fence at our farm. Since this is the first year I’ve had our new farm I actually had to transport the pumpkins from one farm to another. Luckily it’s less than five minutes in the truck and I just got a new gadget that makes unloading my truck unbelievable enjoyable. I’m neither advertising nor endorsing this product but the Load Handler has revolutionized my life. I now have a pick-up that doubles as a dump truck! Anyway, I spent a few days carting pumpkins from the patch at my in-laws farm to our new farm. They get unloaded in a heap in front of each paddock (remember I separate the boys and girls) and then slowly toss them in a few at a time morning and night. For several weeks the pumpkins completely replace the organic grain we feed our pigs throughout the growing season.
This part of the season has also been one of the most enjoyable because of the process of feeding the pigs. My wife and I marveled this year at how our three year old son would stand for half an hour and watch the pigs eat pumpkins. He seemed mesmerized by it. To be fair, if I didn’t have so much to do I’d have stood right there next to him the entire time. As it is I usually spent a good five to ten minutes just watching the pigs alongside my boy, occasionally answering his questions or offering comments but more often than not simply standing there next to him a midst the crunching, suction-cup sounding, disagreement between pigs over who claimed which pumpkin first sounds and enjoying the experience. Seriously, have you seen pigs eat?
What is the result of all this traditional collaboration between pigs and pumpkins? Well, let’s just say my mouth is watering just thinking about the pork chops. Fresh off the grill, still sizzling with an amazingly flavorful and HEALTHY rind of fat along the edges. The aroma alone is enough to make you walk from the grill to the table with your head turned so as to avoid drooling on the chops on the way. This is to say nothing of the ground pork, bacon, ham steaks, roasts and other amazing cuts that will help in the process of sustaining our family (and the families of our customers) throughout the next year until the next round of pumpkins sits idly in a field in Central Maine waiting to be eaten by something. May that something always be pigs. Local Food. Eat well – be well.