When Heather and Brad Sanford moved to Ithaca, New York, thirteen years ago, they frequented local farmers markets. They were foodies at heart (Brad studied at the French Culinary Institute even though he was a cancer researcher by day), so naturally they sought fresh, local ingredients. However, they had trouble finding fresh local meat. Everything available was frozen. They thought, “Maybe we should raise some livestock and provide fresh cuts of meat to the community?”
It was a blind leap of faith. While they were both interested in agriculture, neither of them came from a farming background. They began The Piggery in their basement with three base sinks and some chest freezers. They crafted charcuteries and pates in addition to fresh cuts of meat, and within a week at the farmers market, they had a line of 50 people deep.
“The Piggery began as a community-driven project on a small level, and we’ve grown because the community has always pushed us to do something more,” said Heather. “We now have retail space, a CSA-box program in New York City, and we have a federal USDA cut license to do wholesale.”
While the Sanfords credit the community for their growth, it’s clear that the community was responding to the products that The Piggery offers. And what makes their products different are the sustainable farming practices that the Sanfords have implemented at their own farm. All of their pigs are fed local, small grains of triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid), barley, and some wheat in the winter, all of which the Sanfords grind in their own feed mill at their farm. They never use any chemicals or GMOs, and their animals are pastured, meaning that they are actually out in the pastures, eating off the land, mob grazing, and they are moved to different pastures at least two times a week. This, in turn, affects the quality of the meat in a real way.
In Brad’s blog, Revolution Pig, he details what happens to pork when the hogs are fed corn and soy (which is the standard feed in the U.S.) versus triticale. His series, “Firm Pork,” looks at the meat that results from standard feed—a gray, greasy pork that he calls “soft pork”—compared to triticale-fed pork, which is much more pink and firm. He writes, “In a nutshell, soft pork is pork with a high content of polyunsaturated fat. Typically the culprit is linoleum acid, the main component of most vegetable oils.” He reviews the geographical and historical implications of firm pork, potential affects on human health, and his ideas for making firm pork more accessible.
Brad and Heather are incredibly well educated on their craft—and they put it into practice on their land and for their animals. If you haven’t tried The Piggery’s products, you should—and you will never go back. They’re just that good.
Kate Marlow is a former English teacher turned writer. She lives in Greenwich, CT, with her husband, two children, and dachshund named Virgil.