Photo by Scott Eklund.
Walter Jeffries made a comment that I think is worth addressing. Mr. Jeffries raises and markets pigs himself. His situation in Vermont is clearly very different from ours in eastern Washington.
Me: "Food is physical. How it tastes is a function of its chemistry. If you really care about flavor, that's what you need to pay attention to."I think the topic of the size of a producer and their craftsmanship is a fascinating issue.
Jeffries: Yes. Small farmers can pay more attention to this 'little' detail a lot better than they're doing on the large 'farms'. Craftsmanship.
As I pointed out, Saveur's list of good butter has a bunch of American butters (from what appear to be fairly small operations) along with a bunch of gigantic European producers. If you only look at big American food companies, you might think that agribusiness can only churn out lousy products. If you look at European companies, you'll see that big companies can produce great products - often more efficiently than smaller competitors.
When it comes to meat, the situation in America works against small farmers - due to the law that requires that meat and meat-products be produced under USDA inspection. As I've mentioned, we can produce excellent finished pigs - but once we start dealing with USDA processors, it can all go downhill - because we can't control the processor.
Hence, if a company is going to produce the best meat consistently, it needs to either have a good processor, or it needs to be big enough to have its own processing. Small farmers need to be lucky and have a good processor.
Me: "Locally produced stuff that you can buy is often inferior - because the very best stuff gets moved to where the money is."Mr. Jeffries seems to have misunderstood me. I was talking about "the very best", not "the mediocre." He's right that a lot of mediocre stuff moves great distances; that's how America's food system works.
No. Stuff that is produced remotely is often mass produced in factory farms using bad chemistry. See #1 above.
Stuff we produce for our own family is the ultimate in local and has the highest quality and best taste. I couldn't afford to buy what we produce.
Other people in our area are producing superior products to what is shipped in. Vermont produces the highest grade maple syrup. Fresh produce is locally available and is far better quality than what is shipped in. We have plenty of high quality local meats. We also have quality craftsmen producing stone and wood products from local resources - yes, they ship to non-local markets, but you can also get those same things right here and a lot cheaper.
Lastly, just because it is the best stuff it doesn't mean it gets moved to where the most money is. We produce premium pastured pork yet only sell locally. I'm not interested in shipping meat. It's that simple. I get requests weekly to ship live pigs and to ship meat but it isn't something I want to deal with. No need since I can sell locally. Local customers are getting the advantage of being local and getting the highest quality for that reason.
But he's ignoring what I wrote: the very best stuff moves to the consumers with money, who pay to have it sent to them - which is exactly the case with Vermont maple syrup, which moves to people who pay for it.
When Vermont maple syrup moves to Canada (a producer of maple syryp), those Canadians who insist on buying Canadian are buying stuff inferior to that from Vermont. And when the very highest grade of Vermont maple syrup leaves for places like New York and Dubai, the syrup remaining in Vermont (that locals get to buy) isn't as good as the best.
In light of the fact that the "eat local" crowd in both Vermont and Canada generally isn't getting the best, I wrote, "Locally produced stuff that you can buy is often inferior - because the very best stuff gets moved to where the money is."
Me: "Small production is often less efficient - particularly less fuel efficient. Distribution in America greatly favors big producers."Mr. Jeffries is blessed to live in an area where he can distribute pork efficiently. In the West, small farmers have to haul there animals to slaughter and haul their meat to the farmers' market (perhaps several times, if it doesn't sell out the first time). This article hints at how bad things are.
No, this is fundamentally wrong. You're looking at too little of the equation and possibly bad examples. Your thesis is simply wrong.
We use virtually no fuel for production. We pasture our animals. They collect their own food most of the year. They distribute their own manure all year. Distribution is local. We use almost no fuel to get our pork to our customers. We're far more efficient than any large scale production or medium scale production.
Due to the USDA processing requirement, farmers in California's Napa have to haul their animals about 3 hours to get them slaughtered. Then they have to haul the meat back for processing. Farmers in western Washington have similar problems. The situation is fuel inefficient, in addition being tough on the animals.
Many don't know that it costs roughly as much to haul one pig as a full trailer - and the same applies to other freight. So it is a lot more efficient to operate in a large scale, integrated fashion. E.g. it costs Iowa hog producers $.20/lb to move a pig from Iowa to Oakland. In the best case, that's about 5-10 times more efficient than someone moving loads of freight from Washington to Oakland - which is why I say that distribution favors big producers.
Me: "Small farmers living in rural areas without garbage collection degrade the environment more than their city-living customers suspect."I didn't write that rural folks degrade the environment more than city folk - but Mr. Jeffries seems to think I wrote that. Nor did I say anything specifically about Mr. Jeffries, whom I'm happy to hear is extremely responsible.
This is an asinine comment and untrue. First of all, we generate far less trash than city people. But that is a life style choice more than anything else. People in the city choose a lifestyle that creates a huge footprint on the earth... Secondly, why do you assume we dump our trash on the landscape (lack of collection?). We take our trash, the very little amount we produce, to the transfer station about once every month or two when enough has built up and it is a zero cost trip since we're doing other errands or deliveries too. Furthermore, 90% of what we take goes to recycling. It isn't even trash. Our family of five generates about one medium bag of actual trash per month...We are degrading the environment far less than city-living people. Our footprint is tiny in comparison. Your comment is totally off base and bogus. Jeez, get real. Maybe you degrade the environment because you don't get trash pickup or something but don't apply your ways to the rest of us rural folk.
Sadly, in in the West and much of the USA garbage collection in rural areas is expensive. Rural people have ranch dumps, or illegal dumps, and they burn their garbage. Or perhaps they go and illegally dump their trash. If you consider the terrible problem of removing trash, broken equipment and other stuff from a rural area, it all makes sense: hauling it out there makes sense. Once it is trash, it is best to just burn it or dump it somewhere. Illegal dumping is a way of life in much of rural America.
My original point was merely that most city-dwellers take garbage collection for granted, so they don't wonder where their favorite small farmers are putting all their garbage or junk. In general, I suspect city customers would like to think that their small farmer is necessarily a steward of the land who doesn't burn a lot of fossil fuels (per pound of product) compared to the big agribusiness. In general, I don't think things are so rosy.
Mr. Jeffries: You claim a lot of uniqueness. You do a lot of marketing. You keep saying you don't have product though when someone asks for it. Interestingly, This Search yields lots (>800) of other info about breeders of wooly pigs not at woolypigs. There are quite a few breeders in the USA. I have heard other people claim they were the original importers of this breed. I don't know what the truth is but it is interesting.There's nobody else with Mangaltisa pigs in the USA. Although Mr. Jeffries has stated, "There are quite a few breeders in the USA," he cannot name another American breeder with Mangalitsa pigs.
The first batch of Mangalitsa market hogs is still quite young, so we haven't killed many of them. The few we killed have all been sold. We'll kill more in the next few months.
Mr. Jeffries: By the way, I took a look at the photo of loin you mentioned. I'm not impressed. Way too much fat, way not enough meat, too much back fat. That pig is over fed - you're wasting feed or slaughtering too late and it's not getting enough exercise. Could be simply poor genetics. Of course, it is hard to evaluate the taste over the internet. :)That's how an older Mangalitsa's loin looks. The fat on that thing is delicious. It really isn't like normal pork.
Although Mr. Jeffries (and many consumers) don't like how it looks, in places like Austria and Spain, that fatty pork, like fatty tuna or Wagyu beef, sells at a premium (3-5 times normal stuff). Japanese consumers pay a lot to eat that sort of meat; they freeze and ship the meat from Spain to Japan.
The fatback that Mr. Jeffries doesn't like can pay for the pig. A properly fattened Mangalitsa pig - see the photo above - can bring a restaurant $8,500 or so in revenue.
There's a similar phenomenon with Wagyu. Many consumer think this meat is too fatty. But many consumers love it, and pay a lot of money for it.
Mr. Jeffries: You do seem to be marketing it well and getting lots of press. The real test is how long you'll keep doing so and how the sales will be. Is it sustainable for you?Although we have only killed a few Mangalitsa, many of those who've eaten it have been delighted by it. We've also managed to take standard meat-type hogs and produce highly-preferred products by applying what we learned in Austria - despite our processing troubles.
So far we are doing well.
Mr. Jeffries: One last thought, I'm curious on the boar taint. You say you castrate if you think the pig will have boar taint. Have you tested for boar taint (smell is obvious) and if so at what ages? We've been doing a lot of experimenting. The oldest intact sexually active boar kept with the breeding herd we've now done was 30 months of age and had no taint. We haven't had any taint ever in our herd so we now don't castrate unless a customer demands it - and then we charge extra for the service. I am curious if you have found any boar taint in your pigs.We don't know. We err on the side of castration, because we don't want to waste a pig. The rule in Austria is that if the animal hasn't had sex, it is OK even if it is 7 months old.
Mr. Jeffries: There are many things we agree on about pigs but you've gone off the far end with this post and the previous one. Stick to facts.I feel I've stuck to the facts. I'm sorry if I've bothered people like Mr. Jeffries. My goal was to show people some of the counterintuitive things I've learned.