Recently, my husband & I signed up for a CSA with Natura Farms. (more details on that in a future post) Yes, we have a pretty big garden of our own, but my husband had the opportunity to tour this farm, (located in gorgeous Scandia, Minnesota) and is doing some business with them already. We were excited to not only support another local business, but have the opportunity to enjoy some things we weren’t already growing. We usually amp up our veggie intake in the summer, but this summer, we are eating some nights, nothing but veggies! It makes me realize I could really become a vegetarian. But then I come to my senses…how could I not ever smell my most favorite smell, taste my most favorite food…wafting in from the grill, smoker or on a lazy weekend morning…the kitchen! Yes, people, I am talking Pig. Pork, glorious Pork!A friend recently posted a picture on my Facebook wall (not going to share that here, as some of you might get emotional once see how cute it was) of an adorable piglet, all pink & fuzzy. The caption read “I love you!!! Okay, now you can’t eat me.” Ha! I found the humor in it, and yes, for just the smallest of moments I thought “how could you eat something so cute?” But that’s what makes my relationship with Pork so amazing; I can appreciate and adore the tiny precious little piglets, still a pretty pink color and all soft & fuzzy looking. And I can appreciate the Sow, the Mama pig, who bravely bears (called “farrowing” in pig farming) those little piglets, that someday will grow to be somewhere around 270+ pounds that will eventually make it’s way to my dinner table, and finally my belly. Until recently, I had no idea the steps involved. That was, up until I went on my very first Oink Outing!
Last summer, some of my Minnesota Food Blogger friends (now officially known as the group Fortify) were posting pictures from their Oink Outings and I asked how I could participate in one. Well, this spring I got an email asking if I was still interested (YES!) and what dates worked best for me (ANY!) in June. So yes, this happened last month…and truthfully, I don’t know what happened to July…can someone tell me? I had this awesome posting calendar all set up and the summer derailed me. Anyway, hope you’ll forgive me and let’s talk some Piggy now!
Oink Outings, sponsored in part by the Minnesota Pork Board, brings together families & pig farmers, educating both on how pigs are raised and what Mom’s like me go through when choosing how & what to feed our families. For my Oink Outing, we were excited to partner with farmer Judy Bode’s farrow-to-wean pig farm, Rebco Pork and Executive Chef Bryan Schouten of Brackett’s Crossing Country Club. My day began at Brackett’s Crossing where Chef Bryan prepared a mouth-watering Pork Carnitas Salad (isn’t that red taco shell gorgeous!) for our lunch and provided us with several recipes to take home and enjoy with our families. Chef Bryan was able to join us for the day, as we toured the gorgeous southern Minnesota towns of Courtland & Nicollet . We made a pit stop on the way down, at Schmidt’s Meat Market where we were given the honor of seeing some of their huge smokers and product being prepared for the retail coolers out front. I was even given a gift of their award-winning Raspberry Chipotle Bacon, which I used to make this Brown Butter Bacon Ice Cream.
From there, we moved on to the Bode family farm, home to Rebco Pork. The Bode’s have 900 acres of farmland in the Courtland area. In addition to their fifth generation pig farm, they also grow corn & soybeans. I was very impressed with the measures they take to keep their pigs healthy; every employee showers as they enter the building, at the beginning of their shift. They each have their own supplies for doing so, along with clothing & uniforms they must keep at the farm. Everything gets washed there, to again protect the pigs. So, we acted like employees, all though we didn’t shower, we did have to suit up…here’s a picture of our whole crew ready to enter the building!
First up on the tour was the farrowing barn. Rooms where Sows were placed to give birth. I couldn’t wait to see some of the piglets, sweet, pink & brand new! Pig farming has changed over the years. Technology has enabled pig farmers to know pretty close to when a Sow will be giving birth, so they can move her to the farrowing barn before her big moment. That same technology has also enabled pig farmers to choose the type of pigs they raise; consumer demand dictates this mostly, but today’s pigs are leaner and tastier than they have ever been. As we entered the first farrowing barn, the piglets were about three weeks old. They’ll be weaned shortly from the Sow and headed to the finishing barns, on another part of the Bode family farm. From their they will grow to be pushing 270+ and will shortly thereafter make it’s way to the grocery stores we all shop at. The next farrowing barn we entered had Sows just about ready to give birth, and as my luck would have it, one was giving birth right as we came in! I know the picture might be a little graphic, but how amazing is that! It’s crazy to see the difference in size from those tiny little piglets and the Mama laying on her side giving birth to them.
After pulling me away from the piglets, we moved to a different area of the facility; the gestational barn. This is where the pregnant Sows are kept until they are ready to move to a farrowing barn. I have to admit, it was difficult for me to see the Sows, lined up, all inside cages. Of course I thought it would all be “Wilbur-like” and they’d be roaming free, eating grass and hanging out with the ducks, geese and other barnyard animals. But there’s good reason they aren’t. First, we can go back to the strict measures the Bode’s take to ensure their pigs stay healthy. Free roaming pigs can pick up all sorts of diseases from just roaming about outside. In this environment, everything is monitored; from the water they drink, to the feed they get. Also, they are protected. Pigs, believe it or not, can be a lot like humans, behavior-wise. If they were left in an environment where each pig can freely eat what & when they want, bigger pigs can bully smaller pigs and they end up not getting what they need nutritionally speaking. So for what they are trying to do, provide healthy, nutritious Pork to families all over the country, Rebco Pork & the Bode family are doing an incredible job!
The day came to close and as I drove home from my tour, I was happy to have learned as much as I did. It’s good to know where your food comes from. We should all learn that someday!
So let’s talk about some of my favorite ways to eat Piggie meat! My most favorite Pork product is Bacon. Ah, Bacon. What ever would I do without Bacon? I am also not a Bacon snob. I like any Bacon… Although I am not sure I can stomach any of the “Bacon” themed crazy products out there right now. (see below) But I will eat it in salads, on Panini’s (if you don’t own a Panini press-get one), in pasta, dipped in chocolate (aka “pig-lickers”), try it in braised Mustard Greens, Kale or Swiss Chard, I’ve put it in ice cream (see above), I’ve put it in cookies.
Someday I hope to get Bacon Roses for Valentine’s Day…who wouldn’t love that! Hint-hint…
Since getting my smoker for Christmas we’ve smoked Ribs (see previous blog post here) and just this past weekend, finally smoked myself a Pork shoulder for pulled Pork. I will admit, it didn’t go as well as I had planned (we ended up putting it in the oven inside for another hour + to cook) but in the end, what resulted was the most incredible, juicy, tender pulled Pork! My husband’s comment (after it was all said and done) “this was pretty good, but if you tried my pulled Pork recipe from work, it would curl your toes”. Uh, really? I asked why he’s never brought home any samples??? Tease.
A note about cooking pork; most people kill it. And I don’t mean in the good way…to safely eat Pork, you need to cook it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. (unless it’s ground Pork, which should be 160) LET IT REST before slicing into it and you should have a juicy, delicious piece of Pork! If you want/need more info on cooking with Pork, check out the Minnesota Pork Board’s website HERE.
And my other favorite way to eat Pork is slathered with Mustard (Dijon & whole grain), chopped garlic, olive oil & tons of fresh Tarragon (ok in the winter it’s dried from my garden) you have to try it this way!! We usually either bake these in the oven or sauté them. In the summer, definitely throw them on the grill. We also usually do this on Pork chops, but it would be incredible on a gorgeous Pork tenderloin or roast. (salivating just thinking about it) And for another idea with Pork tenderloin, check out my Rhubarb Beer Jam post from last month.
So yah, there’s no chance of becoming a vegetarian with all the delicious Pork available today! Thank you to the Minnesota Pork Board, the Bode family of Rebco Pork, Chef Bryan from Brackett’s Crossing and Oink Outings for letting me participate! Eat Pork people!!
UPDATE ON THIS POST:
Just wanted to be clear, the thoughts expressed above are my own…since taking this tour, I have read & watched articles & videos on both “sides” of pig farming. I have no answer to solve the problem faced by consumers & farmers today. The farm I visited was very clean and appeared to really care about their pigs. I was compensated for my time (as I did take an entire day off of work to go) but I still wrote what I wanted to. If given the choice, I would buy the best meat available to me; free range pigs and all. We each do what we can, to feed our families in the responsible way we see fit. Thanks for reading 🙂