by Michelle Bense
At Rodale Institute, in Kutztown, the importance of humanely raised, heritage-breed meat is paramount. Their heritage hog program and facility, running for about a year now, produces organically raised, pastured pork that’s both delicious and good for the whole family. The hogs are raised without antibiotics or hormones, and forage for their food, with free range of both spacious indoor and outdoor facilities, 24/7.
Farm Manager Ross Duffield oversees the whole farm operation. “When I was hired, we had a few hogs and they were not being managed as efficiently as they could have been,” explains Duffield. “I raise hogs not only on pasture, but to thrive on pasture and improve the health of the soil.” Farmers can learn from Duffield and use Rodale’s model, on a scalable level, to raise their own heritage hogs.
“The quality of our pork is superior to most pasture-raised hog operations,” assures Duffield. “Usually hogs are just a cleanup crew, but we treat them as more than that. The common misconception is that hogs destroy the ground, but they do little damage to the ground if they’re managed properly.”
Their hogs are offered a very diverse range of forages, and are encouraged to eat a variety of foods. “Pigs that eat grass, corn, turnips, pumpkins, small grains, kale, apples and beets—just to name a few of our pasture varieties—will have a more robust flavor and different fat consistency than those that are raised on grain and/or milk alone,” says Duffield.
Duffield says that, ideally, someone interested in purchasing this high-quality meat understands what makes their meat different. Rodale Institute focuses on heritage-breed hogs—traditional livestock breeds whose descent can be tracked to their forefathers—which are limited in number nationwide. “Heritage breeds do very, very well on pasture. More of their diet is consumed on pasture than your average confined hog. They’re efficient and make good use of the land. They’re also friendly, easily manageable and have excellent mothering abilities,” he enthuses. “The better they are on pasture, I feel the better quality pork they provide.”
Rodale Institute focuses on selling whole hogs to the customer, at around four to five dollars per pound—about $1,000 for a whole hog, depending on exact weight. “I’ll help people out [on price] if they’re willing to buy meat from me consistently,” says Duffield. About half a dozen hogs are available right now, with “quite a few” expected to be available in the fall.
Customers are welcome to share a hog with others, Duffield notes, but the responsibility is on them to find a partner with whom they may split the cost of the whole hog. Hogs are sold directly off the farm. “We use an Animal Welfare Approved meat-processing company in Mount Joy called Smucker’s Meats. Smucker’s can accommodate just about any option the consumer chooses, from simply dressing the hog, butchering primal cuts or cutting retail cuts that the consumer chooses,” Duffield explains. Primal and retail cuts are vacuum packed, labeled and flash frozen. Rodale Institute sells portions of the meat in its on-site farm store, including pork chops, sliced bacon and other cuts. Duffield says they’re also interested in selling primal cuts of meat to local chefs, restaurants and catering companies.
Providing the hogs a low-stress environment, Duffield says, makes for much better pork. “Our hogs are happy. Happy pigs make good pork.”
Rodale Institute is located at 611 Siegfriedale Rd., in Kutztown. To purchase a whole hog for your family or business, call 610-683-1474 or email Jesse.Barrett@RodaleInstitute.org.
Michelle Bense is a freelance editor and writer for Natural Awakenings magazines. Connect with her at EditorMichelleBense@gmail.com.