Piedmont Feed and Garden Center in Chapel Hill, NC

The next stop on our tour of local shopping highlights in the Burlington, NC area, was Piedmont Feed and Garden Center, right down the road in Chapel Hill.

I’ve been dragging my feet on this post because my sad, sorry, rainy day pictures are an embarrassment and don’t do the place justice. The store is bright and welcoming, full of feed and products for livestock, dogs and cats; a carefully curated equestrian section; bulk farm and landscaping supplies; and anything you might need for your garden. And if the greenhouse was lovely on the dreary March day I was there, it must be gorgeous now in Spring bloom.

See their Facebook page and Instagram feed for photos full of vibrant colors that show off the store way better than I do here, or better yet, go visit in person!

Piedmont Feed & Garden


The greenhouse 

This was before the Spring plants were fully stocked; the greenhouse is even more impressive now.

Greenhouse plants

Greenhouse plants

Greenhouse plants


The equine section (my favorite)

Equine section

Wanted: everything

Purchased: a Shires grooming kit bag (I am absolutely loving this bag), and a hoof pick/corkscrew combo (for emergencies)


The pet, poultry, and livestock sections

Poultry and livestock sections

Wanted: the fancy chicken coop and the squirrel-proof bird feeder (the sales video at the feeder display is pretty entertaining)

Purchased: a duck-shaped dog toy (HPuppy’s current favorite) and some limited-ingredient dog treats


If you live in the Burlington or Chapel Hill areas, Piedmont Feed and Garden should be your go-to gardening and farming resource. Check their events calendar to learn about upcoming plant and animal workshops and seminars, and go see Chris and Lilly–then vote for them as Best Garden Store and Best Pet Store for Chapel Hill Magazine’s 2015 Best of Chapel Hill Awards! Hurry, polls close on Wednesday the 22nd.

Waterfall

Next and final Burlington area tour stop: Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw. (We also stopped at Saxapahaw General Store for lunch but I’ve already written about how wonderful that place is.)

 

The Ole Country Store and Bakery in Culpeper VA

When you’ve travelled it a zillion times like I have, Route 29 between Charlottesville and DC is a pretty dull (if beautiful in spots – I’m looking at you, northern Greene County) drive. Next time you make the trek try breaking up the monotony with a stop at The Ole Country Store and Bakery in Culpeper. Not only can you pick up unique roadtrip snacks and random gifts and housewares, but you can stock up on local, pastured, steroid/antibiotic/hormone-free happy meat from Clark’s Old Peach Tree Farm, Summer Creek Farm, and Rider’s Backfield Farm.

Clark's Old Peach Tree Farm

Old Peach Tree Farm raises heritage breed pigs on the grasses, nuts, and berries of pasture and woodland, supplemented with non-GMO feed, and PUMPKINS in the fall, lucky pigs! The Clarks raise the pigs from birth to slaughter, which allows them to ensure a low-stress environment for the animals’ entire lifespan.

Summer Creek Farm

Summer Creek Farm raises lambs and beef cattle on pasture with some supplemental local grains; but upon request Summer Creek will feed only grass to animals for customers preferring completely grass-fed meat. They practice environmental stewardship by protecting waterways from animals and frequently rotating pastures.

Rider's Backfield Farm Beef

Rider’s Backfield Farm raises steers on pasture, with a small daily portion of natural grains during finishing. The pH of the cows’ rumen contents is carefully monitored to ensure no negative effects from the grain. The Riders pride themselves on “manag[ing] their beef gently and humanely and the farm(s) that they maintain.”

Local, pastured, clean meat

Meat case

Bins of meat

The Ole Country Store & Bakery

Support local family-run farms and pick up some pasture-raised, hormone-, steroid-, and antibiotic-free meat, while getting a unique shopping experience and relieving your Route 29 boredom at The Ole Country Store & Bakery.

See also: MooThru ice creamery in Remington VA, for the BEST ice cream, made from local hormone-free milk!

Highland County Maple Festival: “I’d Tap That!”

Guest post by Buzzy! Thanks, Buzzy! Where’s my maple donut??


Buzzy and Mr. Buzzy were finally able to realize a life-long dream:  attending the annual Highland County Maple Festival just an hour and a half away!  So many activities and events! I won’t go into the magic of the entertainment

Greene County Cloggers

Or the impressive junk food options

Funnel cakes and fried oreos

Or even the wonder of the Maple Queen and her Syrup princesses (we missed the crowning at the Maple Ball)…

Maple Queen and Syrup Princesses

Instead, we’ll focus on the fascinating process of getting sugar water from trees to something worthy of crowning your pancakes.

It starts with a sugar maple tree.  In Virginia they mainly grow above altitudes of 3,000 ft..  Some of the trees still in use for tapping are 200+ years old!

Tapped tree

With a good cycle of freezing and thawing, pressure grows in the tree to seal up the hole that the tap (called a spile) has made.  During the thaw, the sugar water comes out of the hole, too quickly for the tree to heal itself.  Don’t worry:  no trees are permanently injured in the making of maple syrup!

Spiles

The sugar water that gets collected varies in sugar content each year.  For 2015 it takes only 32 gallons of sugar water that you boil down to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup.  In other years it’s been much higher, and you can actually make syrup from lower altitude maples, but you’d need double the sugar water.

Heating the sugar water

Once you have maple syrup, then the options to celebrate are limitless.  We highly recommend the maple donuts.  Buzzy ate four!!

Maple donut

For you energy-conscious readers who are thinking:  wow, this is a ridiculously energy intensive process — you’re right!  Buzzy recommends you get your sugar from honey, where the bees do all the work evaporating nectar into honey.  Carbon footprint = 0.

This post brought to you by McBene Hill Honey.

Burlington NC’s local food co-op

Company Shops Market

My sister lives in Burlington, NC, a town just off the interstate between Greensboro and the Chapel Hill-Raleigh-Durham area. While it may often be overshadowed by its better-known neighbors to the east and west, Burlington is the anchor of a fast-growing local food scene in North-Central NC. On Saturday my sister and her family treated Mr HP and me to a tour of local food resources in the Burlington area, starting with breakfast at the Company Shops Market, Burlington’s food co-op. Their slogan: Local Food for Local People.

Company Shops Market

Burlington food co-op aisles

Burlington’s food co-op sources as much as possible of what it sells from local farms and producers, and charges members a fee in exchange for discounts at the store and the opportunity to participate in elections. Membership is a bargain one-time payment of $100 for individuals, or $150 for a two-adult family. The Burlington co-op is a strong supporter of the local community:

For every dollar you spend, 68% goes back into the community through donations, purchases, taxes and payroll. We’re helping to support the local small farms, businesses and producers and offering our customers all-natural, free-range, fair trade, organic and REAL food products!

I particularly appreciated the bulk eggs: fill your own container! Genius!

Our breakfast was fantastic, with more variety than the Charlottesville Whole Foods breakfast bar, for about half the price.

Burlington is lucky to have the Company Shops Market. I’ll definitely be back.

Co-op breakfast bar

Local food for local people


Downtown Burlington’s Saturday morning farmers market is also getting ready to open for the season on April 4:

Did you know that all of our vendors grow, raise, and create everything they sell at market within a 60 mile radius of Downtown Burlington? Now that’s what you can call local!


Next stop in our tour, Piedmont Feed and Garden Center in Chapel Hill!

Local and sustainable dining in Berlin

Hallo!

Guten Tag!

Sorry I’ve been MIA around here. Mr HP and I adopted a dog at the beginning of the year and my free time has since evaporated. Now that we’re in a routine I’m hoping to be able to write more.

Plus, winter is depressing and demotivating. So this is just a quick post to try to get back into the swing of things.

checkpoint charlie

Mr HP is in Berlin, and asked me for a restaurant recommendation. I, in turn, asked Google. Here’s what I found:

In “The Global Guide to Local: Berlin” from Modern Farmer, we learn that in Berlin “there is a compelling movement toward sustainable design and community-based markets – and it’s growing fast.” The article lists sustainable food-related businesses of different types, including two restaurants – Katz Orange, specializing in seasonal, local organic produce and happy pigs (“…one of Berlin’s most adventurous and upscale farm-to-table places to eat” according to this list), and Kantine at David Chipperfield, offering simple food made from local ingredients – and a food hall/produce market, Markthalle Neun. At the market, according to Alternative Berlin, “…you can find an incredible array of delicious, sustainable, local food (as well as a brewery!) sourced in ecologically and socially responsible ways, in direct contact with the producers.”

Kantine’s success led to the creation of a second location, Das Lokal, which sources game from the forests surrounding Berlin. Wild game is about as far from industrial livestock as you can get!

Kantine is not to be confused with Kantine Kohlmann, a …”trendy bar and restaurant [that] uses local, sustainable ingredients to make delicious modern twists on German classics” per this article.

Pantry is a homey, affordable, recommended dinner spot whose “…produce and animal products are allegedly procured during visits to local markets or shipped in from within a 100km radius.”

For a splurge, try the “quite near” (as opposed to the “far away”) menu, which is based on local ingredients, at Reinstoff. Another special occasion destination is Pauly Saal, which sources local ingredients, including from its own garden.

And finally, it doesn’t get much more local than the Café and Restaurant in Prinzessinnengarten, which sources ingredients from Prinzessinnengarten itself.

We serve local and regional organic food and drinks if possible and support small-scale organic producers in and around Berlin. All the revenues from the bar and the kitchen contribute directly to the non-profit learning activities in Prinzessinnengarten.

Prinzessinnengarten is an urban farm raising organic produce, and neighborhood education center where the community can learn about sustainable living. The garden, built on an abandoned city plot, is run by a non-profit and tended by volunteers, and hosts workshops and other educational opportunities. It reminds me of a similar effort in Perth that I was lucky enough to visit last year.

Here is a map showing the locations discussed in this post. If you visit any of them, or if you know of others that should be included, let me know in the comments!

The next big thing in sustainable protein: Bugs!

I recently had a birthday, and Mr. HP surprised me with these:

chocolate bugs

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED INSECTS.

What a lucky girl I am!

Mr. HP set up a chocolate-dipped bug tasting for six at a Southwest Virginia winery. The accompanying pours were less for wine appreciation and more for steeling of nerves.

no bugs thanks

The buggy treats came from My Chocolate Shoppe in downtown Charlottesville, which has created quite a buzz (get it) locally with its chocolate-dipped worms, crickets, and scorpions. The bugs are farmed and baked in California, shipped to My Chocolate Shoppe, and hand-dipped on site.

bugs and wine

As insect farming is a rising trend in sustainable and ethical protein production, I felt compelled to write about my entomophagy experience here.

Sustainability of insect farming

We all know factory farming is bad for the atmosphere, waterways, local community, resident animals, facility workers, and potentially consumers of the end product. Production of traditional livestock (chicken, pigs, and beef cattle) contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than the transportation sector and consumes vast amounts of freshwater. Factory farms pollute waterways with fertilizer, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. CAFOs are blights on their surroundings and poison their neighbors with chemical runoff and manure lagoon leaks. Antibiotic use in livestock is causing the development of resistant strains of bacteria that are difficult to treat in humans. See my notes from a US Food Systems course I took last year for more horrifying details and appalling statistics.

As the global population continues to expand, there will be more and more pressure on the land to produce enough protein to feed everyone. Insects can fill this need with a much smaller footprint on the environment; they simply don’t require the land, water, and food resources that chickens, pigs, and cattle do. Insects produce fewer greenhouse emissions, their containers can be stacked on shelves, and insect farming doesn’t involve the hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers, and pesticides that CAFOs rely on.

It takes 2,900 gallons of water, 25 pounds of feed and extensive acreage to produce one pound of beef and just one gallon of water, two pounds of feed and a small cubicle to produce a pound of crickets. – “Edible insects a boon to Thailand’s farmers

*********************************************************

Thus, considering all factors, the actual food conversion efficiency of insects may be 20 times that of cattle. This means insect farming — along with other forms of “microlivestock”, could be one of the elements of a sustainable global agricultural future.- “Edible bugs and insects: Are these high protein critters the future of food?

Bug farming ethics

Are the bugs treated ethically while alive? Are they humanely slaughtered? I believe so. Farmed insects are raised in dark colonies, as they are found in nature; they are provided food, and protected. When harvesting time rolls around, they are chilled to a natural hibernation-like state, and from there the temperature is lowered until they die quietly.

Insects raised in farms live in teeming dark conditions (preferable environment), with ample and abundant food supply, no natural predators, no risk of outside diseases or parasites, and when they’re culled we lower the temperature so that there’s no violent death or change in state (because insects are exothermic their metabolism slows until they go into a coma-like sleep without any pain). I can’t think of a more humane way to raise our meat. – Robert Nathan Allen of Little Herds, via NPR

Bug nutrition

Bugs are a high protein, nutrient-rich, low fat and low cholesterol food. Insect protein is a complete protein, meaning all nine essential amino acids are present. Bugs are also are significant sources of zinc, iron, and vitamin A.

According to Chapul, makers of cricket-based protein bars, insects have:

  • 15% more iron than spinach
  • 2x more protein than beef
  • as much B12 as salmon

The table below (source) compares insect nutrition against that of chicken, beef, and salmon:

Warning to those with a shellfish allergy: bug exoskeletons are made of chitin, which also makes the shells of shrimp, crabs, and lobsters.

But how did they taste?

We decided to eat the worm first, as it was the least intimidating, and we’d eat in in a single bite so we wouldn’t have to see any innards. It was… not bad. The worm had no flavor, so it just added a rice krispie-like crunch to the chocolate.

Next was the scorpion, which was a similar no-flavor-big-crunch addition to the chocolate as the worm. No problem.

The cricket had the biggest gross-out factor, in my opinion. Its body is meatier than the other two. And sure enough, I didn’t like it. It had a bitter flavor along with its crunch.

plates of bugs

It was a fun experiment. But – surprise – we Americans have been eating bugs all along in processed food. The FDA allows certain amounts of insect parts, including pieces, larvae, eggs, and sacs, in foods like dried herbs, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, coffee beans, flours, peanut butter, sauces, and more. This article estimates that “on average an individual probably ingests about one to two pounds of flies, maggots and other bugs each year without even knowing it.” Sorry to break it to you, but you’re already an entomophagist! Congrats!

I had no plans to eat more bugs in the immediate future, but while researching this post I enjoyed reading the Exo “Why Crickets” page so much I ordered a couple of their cricket-flour protein bars to try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Parsnip Party!

Cheenius is here to tell us a tale of parsnip wrangling. Thanks, Cheenius!


As everyone knows, Cheenius loves to make things from scratch — because who wouldn’t want to spend way more time and effort on soup then anyone else in her circle? But, in this case, Cheenius was feeling pretty proud of having grown her own parsnips, and needed to show them off.

whole parsnips

You’ll notice the actual parsnips look unlike anything you’ve ever purchased at a grocery store, and more like unmentionable body parts from Jabba the Hutt. Turns out they maybe needed a little more water than Cheenius gave them, which meant they turned woody and cankerous.

[Ed: For purposes of comparison and poking fun at Cheenius, here’s a picture of normal-looking parsnips -]

normal parsnips

After some research, Cheenius learned that she needed to chop out the middle woody parts, which left her with not much to roast:

chopped parsnips

Not to worry! The recipe called for a leek, so there was a little more volume in the roasting pan. Phew!

roasted parsnips

After roasting, simmering, blending the various bits, and then tripling the amount of cream (I mean, c’mon: if anyone appreciates adding dairy it’s Cheenius!), the soup actually turned out quite good:

parsnip soup

[Ed: Cheenius did not take a picture of the actual finished product, so the above is a stock photo.]

[Ed: Get it? Stock photo?]

[Ed: It’s not really a stock photo, it’s from this recipe. Sorry, I cannot resist a pun.]

Mr. Cheenius commented on a certain grittiness to the dish. Evidently Cheenius got a little lazy when it came to actually washing the parsnips, and also doesn’t own one of those vegetable scrubbers (Christmas gift idea, anyone?). Still, they agreed that this could easily be their main go-to root vegetable soup, and extra dirt just means it’s that much more homemade. Here’s the recipe if anyone is inspired (thanks to Marie Taylor for sharing!):


Ingredients

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into medium-size pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra-virgin)
1 1/2 cups (about 1 large) chopped leeks, white and light-green parts only
4 sprigs lemon thyme, divided
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, divided
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Method

Heat oven to 350°F. In a medium roasting pan, toss parsnips with oil. Roast, covered with foil, 20 minutes. Add leeks and leaves of 2 thyme sprigs; toss to coat with oil; splash with wine. Roast, covered with same foil, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, 30 minutes. Discard any burned bits.

In a large pot, bring veggies and 2 cups stock to a boil; reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes; let cool slightly.

In a food processor, blend soup on low until smooth. Return blended soup to pot; add cream. Bring soup to a very low simmer; season with salt and black pepper; add enough of the lemon juice to cut the sweetness to your deisred level.  Add remaining 1 cup stock to reach desired thickness.


Anybody else have a good parsnip recipe?

Stockholm’s Best Burgers

exterior view of Flippin' Burgers

Just before Team HP left on a short jaunt to Stockholm, the ever-observant Mr HP caught a tip in one of Huffington Post’s ubiquitous Top X Most Amazing [Random Thing]s Ever lists: the Number One Greatest Burger Outside America is at Flippin’ Burgers in Stockholm–and, per the article:

All Widegren’s beef is grass-fed, sourced from local farms, and ground in-house. A nearby bakery provides the buns.

As a recently recovered pescatarian, I have discovered that I love a good burger, but my rule is that I will only eat a burger if it’s from a local, happy, pastured, hormone- and antibiotic-free, humanely slaughtered cow. Flippin’ Burgers does it right:

Well, we only buy meat from small producers who have an eye on animal husbandry and slaughter. With animals staying outside and eat grass because they simply feel the best of it… Right now, we use E-marked Archipelago Meat from a small slaughterhouse in Värmdö who slaughter animals mainly from farms in the Stockholm archipelago. We have also worked with  Swedish Grass Meat and Greens Farms .

In Charlottesville this summer, Mr HP and I have enjoyed a Sunday tradition of burgers and beers at Champion Brewery: Every Sunday Champion hosts JM Stock Provisions and their magical grill of delights, serving fantastic burgers from local, pastured, hormone/chemical free cows, and man, are they good. So we were excited at the prospect of local happy-cow burgers on Sunday despite being 4200 miles from home.

Flippin’ Burgers has a wait for tables ALL THE TIME. We arrived at 5 and still waited for a half hour at the bar. While there, we got some tips from the (normal-sized) man next to us polishing off his order of FIVE cheeseburgers.

Flippin' Burgers bar

Flippin' Burgers menu

Based on our bar friend’s recommendation, we opted for Burglers, a basic cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and house sauce. Mr HP got a double because he is extra manly. My sad phone pictures do not do the food justice, so you’ll have to take my word for it that these burgers were excellent: juicy, flavorful, not too saucy, and the buns were fresh and not overly bready (you know how sometimes there’s too much bread for the quantity of innards? these were well-sized).

Flippin' Burgers Burgler

Part of the fun of the Flippin’ Burgers experience was the Americanish diner scene. The food was American-inspired: burgers, fries, and Ben and Jerry’s milkshakes. The Swedes next to us ordered Blue Ribbon beer (PBR to you and me). The Spotify station (Spotify started in Sweden, remember? Seems like all restaurants/cafes/stores here have “Check out our playlist on Spotify” signs.) was heavy on early-90s American Top 40. But we were surrounded by Swedish-speakers and we were drinking Swedish beer, so all culture was not lost.

Flippin' Burgers diner scene

Ice cream case

Stockholm Brewing Co

We considered sharing a milkshake for dessert, but instead shared another burger for dessert. Five Burger Guy’s ladyfriend recommended the Cricket burger, which is not made of crickets, but rather a burger topped with cream cheese, pickled onions and jalapenos, inspired by the Cherry Cricket in Denver; this was our dessert.

Flippin' Burgers Cricket

Oh what a terrible picture. The onions were sweet, so it was sort of dessertesque. I wonder how the calorie count compares to that of a milkshake… no, I don’t want to know anything about the calories involved in this meal. It was an interesting and surprisingly tasty combo, but the more traditional burger was better in my opinion.

In conclusion, pastured, local, happy cows make the best burgers, and if you’re craving a top-notch burger in Stockholm and have the time to wait for a table, check out Flippin’ Burgers. If you’re craving a top-notch burger in Charlottesville, meet me at Champion on Sunday!

Recent relevantish reads

I enjoyed these articles and think you might too!

cows at Mountain Home Farm

Soon, Your Food May Dine on Insects — which is a much more natural food source for animals than soy:

However, food producers are likely to feel the pinch as the world’s population climbs to nine billion by 2050, while rising incomes in large countries like China and India lead to greater demand for meat-rich diets. So entrepreneurs, researchers, and even the United Nations are looking for an animal feed less expensive than the soybeans and fishmeal typically used today. Insects like mealworms and fly larvae, a natural food for wild birds and fish, could be a near-perfect replacement. With several startups planning industrial-scale operations, it may not be long before some poultry or fish entrées are raised on a regular diet of bugs.


I backed a Kickstarter campaign to help Mountain Home Farm in Vermont become an all-grass dairy farm. Consider skipping your daily latte and throwing them a few bucks! The campaign has less than a day to go!


Scientists sniffing out the Western allergy epidemic: my obsession with gut bacteria continues.

The bacteria that cover our skin, line our mouths and fill our guts not only outnumber our own cells by about 10 to one but may play a vital role in training our immune systems. Changes to our lifestyles are influencing these microorganisms, and allergies are the consequence.


Monsanto, Under Attack for GMOs, Has a New Defender – this is a WSJ article, so the link may not work, sorry. Monsanto has a young, Silicon Valley-type executive trying to persuade people that the company isn’t evil:

Mr. Friedberg, a former Google Inc. executive, now oversees the “precision agriculture” services Monsanto sells to farmers, a major initiative encompassing high-tech planting equipment, soil and seed analysis, and weather modeling.

The lifelong vegetarian has also emerged as an unlikely champion of Monsanto at a time when the company—and the business of genetically engineering crops that it pioneered—face intensifying attacks.


12 Signs You Need to Eat More Protein covers 12 situations, symptoms, and signs that indicate a direct need for more dietary protein, including:

  • You’re getting older
  • You’re always hungry
  • You lift weights or endurance train
  • You primarily get your protein from plants

Any of those sound like you? Just make sure to get your extra protein from HAPPY ANIMALS!


A Call for a Low-Carb Diet That Embraces Fat

This isn’t really news as we’ve seen a zillion studies with similar results, but apparently “this is one of the first long-term trials that’s given these diets without calorie restrictions.”

Dr. Mozaffarian said the research suggested that health authorities should pivot away from fat restrictions and encourage people to eat fewer processed foods, particularly those with refined carbohydrates.

Translation: Eat real food! 


 Diet Soda May Alter Our Gut Microbes And Raise The Risk Of Diabetes

Remember that the food you eat is feeding your gut biome. Take care of it!

Diet sodas may alter our gut microbes in a way that increases the risk of metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes — at least in some of us… It’s clear that our gut microbes are not just passive organisms hitching a ride on our bodies, says Kirsten Tillisch, a gastroenterologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “They’re affecting our health in active and powerful ways.”

Babe(s) in the Wood

Here is the first guest post from the fabulous Ewe-nique!


Since the HPs, Cheenius, Mr. Dr. Cheenius, and the Tiny Twosome were all off to more exotic locales over Labor Day, it fell squarely on my shoulders to ensure that at least one of us attended the 2014 “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour. I accepted this self-directed mission with gravity and pride. In fact, I was so stealthy in my plan that the whole thing was unbeknownst to HP until I sent her this guest post and begged to be featured.

Meet Yer Eats

For those not familiar with the “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour, it is an annual Central Virginia event where a number of local farms roll out their welcome mat and offer the general public the chance to explore and “meet” their food sources. As an avid cook, locavore, and conscientious (i.e. picky) eater, I think that we can all benefit substantially by learning about and being aware of where our food comes from.

I must admit that my choice of farm this year was driven by an ulterior motive. As a longtime vegetarian, and more recently a pescatarian, I’ve been considering including other meats in my diet again for the past few months. However, one of my chief objections to the carnivorous lifestyle has long been the manner in which the consumed animals are raised and slaughtered. Thus, I decided to truly meet my eats and visit Babes in the Wood, a farm out in Dillwyn, Virginia that raises free-roaming, forest-foraging pigs.

The drive out to pastoral Dillwyn was winding, warm, and sunny. I’d been out VA-20 South many a time, but never this far south. I knew that I had ventured into uncharted territory when I passed a larger than life inflated chicken outside of an establishment called Lumpkin’s.

Since this was a solo expedition, I played one of my favorite alone-time games on the drive out: Rockin’ Road Name Revue. Believe me, people get creative on the backroads of Virginia. I won’t bore you with the entire list, but here were my top favorites:

  • Troublesome Creek Road (That pesky creek is forever making mischief.)
  • Little Heaven Road (Leading to a trailer park, but… perhaps a reference to the Tiny House movement as chronicled by the Tiny Twosome on HP back in June?)
  • B-A-H Road (I can only assume this name is in reference to sheep or that it is one Bad Ass Homestead.)

I arrived at Babes in the Wood in time to wander around before we began a tour of the farm. In addition to sighting the piggies from afar, I also ventured over to the chicken coop and a small barn where there were a few calves hanging out.

Farmyard scene

Bill Jones, the owner and founder of Babes in the Wood, took us on an excellent hike in the farm woods, where he answered a bevy of questions from our curious group. Here are the highlights of what I learned:

  • Bill raises English Tamworths, a breed that is well suited for forest life. The Tamworths have a lovely red coat and enjoy foraging for their food.
  • The sows give birth approximately twice a year (although if a sow had a very tough birth or large litter, Bill will only breed her once during that year), and the average litter size is eight piglets.
  • The pigs are fed at the farm once a day, and then are free to forage as they like throughout the forest.

Forest scene

  • Quite a few of us were eager to know how Bill keeps track of his pigs since they are free to wander. The simple answer is, he recognizes them when they arrive for the daily feeding, and if they don’t show up, he goes looking for them.
  • Unfortunately, I did not bring my pen and paper, so I don’t recall the exact number of pigs that are currently being raised on the farm. The numbers tend to vary with the seasons. However, Bill does keep the number proportional to the acreage of the farm (only two to three pigs per acre). If there are too many pigs per acre, their extensive rooting for food exposes the roots of the trees and can cause the trees to fall.
  • The pigs are approximately 12 to 15 months old when they go to slaughter.
  • Pigs are considered ready for butchering based on their weight, with about 300 pounds generally being the desirable weight.

Whilst traipsing through the woods, we kept keen eyes open for Kevin Bacon, the farm’s boar, but he regrettably did not show his snout. Bill mentioned that Kevin had decided a day or so ago that he was going into the woods and not staying in the pen. Apparently, one cannot persuade a 400 pound boar to change his mind if he has other intentions. Another fun fact: Kevin will grow to approximately 1000 pounds!

On our forest tour, we wandered down to a creek in the woods in hopes of sighting a few pigs, the creek being one of their favorite hangouts. However, the piggies must not have been in the wallowing mood, because we did not spot any near the creek. We did see a large sow hanging out in the woods by herself, and Bill mentioned that she had been feeling under the weather for the past few days. During this conversation, I learned that the primary health risk that his pigs face is pneumonia. The onset of the condition is sudden, and the pigs can die within three days of showing symptoms, so it must be caught and treated quickly. Thus, Bill had been keeping a close eye on this girl.

sick piggy

As our hike drew closer to the farm’s estate, we found many pigs hanging out near the farm’s fence. Many of the older pigs were relaxing, quite sensibly, in the shade of the trees, while the younger ones were cavorting together in a large group.

pig digs

Though the pigs are somewhat skittish around visitors (there was a lot of oinking and running away as I drew near), they are very social among themselves and establish a clear pecking (or perhaps porking?) order that lasts throughout their lives. The pigs are no stranger to putting a fellow pig in his or her place, and sometimes squabble amongst themselves to enforce this social hierarchy.

I’d like to present an analysis of the traits that can determine an individual pig’s status within his or her drove:

pig trait analysis

Toward the end of the tour, I got down to the nitty gritty and asked Bill about the manner in which his pigs are slaughtered. Interestingly, Bill is not allowed to slaughter and butcher the pigs himself if he is going to sell the meat to the public. Instead, by law, he must have the pigs processed at a USDA-approved facility. Hearing this initially raised my hackles a bit, but after I received the full story, my worries were abated.

Bill, as I mentioned, knows his pigs by sight. Every few weeks, he identifies the ones that are ready to be butchered and catches them (which is usually just the case of closing the gate when they come to the farm pen for their daily meal). The pigs then spend a few days in the pen, where there is plenty of space and lovely mud to wallow in, so that they can get used to the enclosed quarters.

mud wallow

When it is butchering day, he personally takes the pigs down to Blue Ridge Meats, his butcher in Front Royal.

Bill mentioned that his butcher is certified humane, but as we both agreed, like “certified organic”, “certified humane” can encompass a variety of abattoir environments and practices. Here’s the skinny on what goes down for the Babes from the Wood:

  • The pigs are slaughtered individually, and the other pigs are not exposed to the death of their fellow animals.
  • The pigs are killed with a single shot to the back of the neck/head, and then they are bled out and butchered. I thought that the “shot” was an electrical shock of some sort, but I forgot to clarify, and after doing some Internet research, it might also be a captive bolt gun. The common alternative to this practice is that the pigs have their throats slit and are bled out while they are still alive and, quite literally, screaming.
  • At Bill’s butcher, on a really, really, busy day, they may butcher up to 20 pigs. Contrast that with a typical commercial factory farm, which may slaughter thousands of pigs per day.
  • I checked out Blue Ridge Meats’ website post-tour, and was pleased to see that they clearly support and adhere to the humane butchery of their animals.

Thus, in my opinion, if you are trying to source humanely raised and slaughtered pork, you need look no further than Babes in the Wood. These are happy, healthy pigs who are extremely well cared for and have the chance to lead a natural, piggy lives before they are butchered with consideration and compassion. [Ed: And Mr. HP assures you that Babes in the Wood pork is DELICIOUS. You can get a sandwich at their tent at Charlottesville’s Saturday City Market, in addition to buying packaged meat.]

Having exhausted Rockin’ Road Name Revue on my way out, I found time on the drive home to reflect on my visit and compose a few pig-related haikus, also known as hamkus:

meat on cloven feet
bacon, ham, sausage, pork are
names for pigs we eat

 

My dear porcine friend,
I’m glad you had a good life
up until the end.

And with that, I’ll turn, appropriately, to the words of Porky Pig to sum up this post: “Th-th-that’s all, folks!”

happy pig