Thursday, September 8, 2011

Barter System/Why R&R Farm's Pork Tastes so Good

                After power was restored on the farm this past weekend, I decided to indulge in a couple of feasts, which there is normally no time in the season in which to indulge. So, on Saturday, I pulled a pack of bacon as well as a ham steak from my freezer so that it could thaw out, and I could cook, then devour. My justification on such feasts was that after the earthquake that was followed by Hurricane Irene, constant rain was on its way from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. It has been a very rough year so far, and after the cold, cold spring, etc., weariness inevitably overwhelms me, realizing all of the effort put forth… which failed to a great degree to produce the intended crops, mostly as a result of those unpredictable extreme fluctuations in the weather. If the reader is not a farmer, this is difficult to comprehend, but nonetheless, in lieu of say, a weekend, or a weekend couple of hours off, I decided to take an hour vacation, TWICE!, in one day. The menu of that vacation consisted of bacon and ham!
                On Sunday morning, I cooked up the bacon for a breakfast feast. Now to explain a little, this is not your ordinary bacon. That bacon originated from pigs raised on my neighbor’s farm. R&R Farm is the name, and Kirk and Jen Robertson are the farmers. But again, this is not your ordinary bacon. After frying up the bacon and making a couple of egg and bacon sandwiches, my palate was overwhelmed with sensual delight! It is absolutely amazing the taste difference between the big agriculture confinement pig source of bacon, and that which is naturally raised in friendly confines, that is, outdoors, in fresh air and… well, I’ll get back to the rest later. Oh what a feast started that day! All of the other chores of cleaning up the mess behind a storm that passed a week ago, and only having power restored hours ago, were assuaged by the feast of that unbelievably delicious bacon!
                But that was the start. As dusk fell, I cooked the ham steak, along with some veggies left after the market. While the chard and beans, etc., were delicious, that ham steak was a culinary masterpiece! The flesh was so tender, and juicy, but beyond that, the flavor was… perfect! How to explain this? I am personally well versed in the consumption of confinement-origin pig/ham, and that is why the taste difference struck me so startlingly. That ham steak from R&R Farm was the first one I had sampled from them, and I was simply dumbfounded by the intensity of the flavor. As weird as it may sound, the flavor was absolutely… natural! Again, I do not have the words to describe how delicious that feast was, but there was a sense of satiety, a fullness that my stomach and internal organs related that is not the same after consuming confinement ham. It may seem like I am overdoing my assessment of that pork, but I assure you that that is not the case. At every bite, you tend to pause, then think, “Damn, that is really, really good!” Then, you take another bite and the process is repeated!
                So what is it that causes the pork raised on R&R Farm to taste so delicious? I have questioned that extensively. After witnessing a restaurant chef/owner experience the same delight over that pork, I have realized that there is something VERY special in how those pigs are raised. The ability to "move" must surely have a great deal to do with the texture of the meat, and the fresh air surely assists in the pig's health. But I suspect a lot of that pork flavor initiates from the food the pigs devour. How does the wise saying go? "You are what you eat." And what do they eat? To a great degree, the answer to that question can be found 1/2 mile away from R&R Farm, down the dirt portion of Hughes Shop Road to… Nev-R-Dun Farm! But allow me to elucidate… with pictures!

                 Weeds! Pig feed!!! Natural green vegetation certified organic by the Maryland Department of Agriculture! This is a picture of Field 9 at Nev-R-Dun Farm, just one of the fields in which I grow the incredibly nutritious organic feed for the pigs to thrive on at R&R Farm just up the road. There are so many plants those pigs love found in that green mess that it would be impossible to detail completely. However, there is lambsquarter, pig weed, poke weed, low-lying...something or other whose name I do not know, ...other plants whose name I do not know... OH! And purslane! They LOVE the purslane!
                 Here is a picture after the pig feed has been liberated from the field, thus revealing a row a lettuce. Beans are under the white row cover to the right. While pigs love beans and lettuce too, those crops only seem to reach them after us humans have gotten our share first. I mean, after all, who harvests all those delectable greens for those pigs?
                  After the pig feed has been harvested, with great amount of laborious effort, I might add, the pig feed is loaded onto the pig feed delivery vehicle, otherwise known as my truck. (Don't let the big white water tank in the bed of the truck throw you off. It has nothing to do with the pig feed process.)
                 Usually, the pig feed, that is, lambsquarter, purslane, pig weed, etc., are transported in five gallon buckets. However sometimes those plants thrive excessively well in the farm's heavily composted soil and grow to over six feet in height. Those do not fit in five gallon buckets, but are hauled "as is" and normally dangle over the sides of the truck bed, but I digress...
                 Upon arrival at the farm, the pigs recognize the sound of the pig feed delivery vehicle. This duroc pig eagerly approaches the feeding area.We are rapidly approaching the proof of how good that organic pig feed is for them...
                 "Ain't nothin' better than this Nev-R-Dun Farm greenery", they would say, if they were not so busy stuffing themselves with it! It is the manner in which they "tear into" those greens which is so incredible to witness. Pigs do not "love" to eat everything. If it does not smell right to them, they will leave it along. An example of that are bell peppers, even ripe orange or red ones. They won't touch them. But when they are given tomatoes, melons or squash... Look out! And the same goes for those delicious Nev-R-Dun Farm greens.
                 This is the older sow. No younguns at the moment, but she knows what's up. Pig feed is a-comin', and as usual she can't wait! Actually, the one that REALLY can't wait is the boar to the left of her. He was so impatient for that pig feed that I could not get a clear picture of him. No big loss. He's just a really big glutton anyway. I'm pretty sure his thoughts are "Eat, eat, eat..." almost exclusively.
                 Feedin' time! There is no hesitation between the feeding and the eating. The situation is a little unfortunate in that paddock, that is, the one with the older sow and the boar. The boar wants to eat EVERYTHING and constantly pushes the sow away from the pig feed. To alleviate that boar's greed, pig feed is dispersed in different locations of the paddock. Here, the sow gets to peacefully dine alone. Unbeknownst to the boar, the sow usually gets the really "good" stuff.
                 Now here are the adolescents, otherwise known as "feeder" pigs. Their paddock is a little removed from the driveway. They can hear the delivery truck long before their share of organic produce is delivered. As the five gallon buckets are carried to this fence, they run up the spot in the picture to the left, and press against each other, as though they were in a scrum. It is like they are prepared to wrestle for it. Fortunately, there is plenty to go around for all of them.
                 "There's nothin' better in the world than this Nev-R-Dun Farm produce!" that light colored pig is thinking. At least, I'm pretty sure that is what she is thinking. (Check out the different dialect spoken here by a Yorkshire mix from the Duroc above.)

                 Lastly, and definitely, not leastly, is the latest mother of the group.While the greens are behind her, she always seems to expect them delivered in front of her. (That does sound odd, does it not?) Anyway, the greens are tossed over her head to the clear area behind her, only when they pass over her head, she does not grasp that they will land behind her. And so she mourns a bit about not being fed, then eventually turns around to see a mountain of pig feed just waiting for her! And her piglets, as well...
                 The piglets are a little more amusing to watch. They have only just started to wander around the paddocks a week or so ago, and that is all a "new world" to them. They are curious, but very skittish. At sudden movements, they will quickly dart off in the opposite direction. When the greens are tossed into the paddock, they will scamper a couple of feet away, only to immediately scamper back to dig into the feast. I am always struck on how young they are when they learn to eat their veggies!
                 And so now you have been provided visual proof as to why R&R Farm's pork tastes so good. Once again, it is the manner in which those pigs "tear into" those greens that lets you know how good it is for them. Sometimes, after the last paddock has been fed, the first may already be finished eating all their greens! Nonetheless, I am going to assert that the statement, "You are what you eat", is extremely sagacious, and that it truly reflects why R&R Farm's pork tastes so good. Sometimes, when I take a bite of R&R ham, I can swear I taste...purslane!

                 But this entry is not quite done. The other part of the title is "Barter System". You see, all of that pig feed, I mean the tons and tons, the innumerable truck loads of that pig feed, is harvested and distributed to those pigs free of charge. (I will reflect on an alternative situation at another time...) What our two farms have developed is a form of barter system, where we trade things, or labor, etc., instead of exchanging money. For the feeding above, after coming home from the farmer's market on Saturday morning, I was greeted with this wonderful pile of firewood scraps from their farm! What a fair trade! The scraps from my farm end up as delicious feed for their pigs, and the scraps from their farm will keep my house warm  during the winter months! (More things to come from this front. Stay tuned...)

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