There are 32 Sea to Sky residents proud to say they are part owner of a Tamworth pig. Health conscious food consumers have discovered the benefits of buying pork raised in Pemberton or the Upper Squamish Valley.
Farmer Sarah McMillan, who works with Simone MacIsaac at Rootdown Organic Farm in Pemberton, says her Tamworths are a welcome addition to the operation on the Meadows Road.
They provide fertilizer for the farm soil, and a much needed source of spring revenue in addition to being great couch grass controllers.
The deposit price for Rootdown pig share purchasers is $150 and once the porkers are ready for harvest the balance is $6.50 a pound.
McMillan isn't shy to admit the idea at her farm was inspired by another farm operator. Dr. David Lane has been in the pig business at Rojo Pez Ranch in the Upper Squamish Valley for some time. He says he's giving his property a break from the pigs this season, but the ranch is currently raising turkeys and chickens. Ducks have also inhabited the ranch.
Glacier Valley Farm also raises pigs. Steve Moir and Cory Balano are providing pork products for Nesters and Kitchen Quickies in Squamish. Like Lane, the Glacier Valley Farmers raise other animals too.
The Tamworths at Rootdown are in the spotlight because the 16 pigs available through the pig share program sold out in no time this year. Within 24 hours of sending out a note announcing deposits were being collected, McMillan says all the shares in the pig program were claimed.
McMillan and MacIsaac raise Tamworths for a few very specific reasons.
"They are known for really good bacon and, to be honest, we love bacon," says McMillan with what sounds like a laugh tinged with guilt.
There are also some very practical and principled reasons for raising this variety of pig.
The farm area where they are raised will be used for growing vegetables next year because they naturally fertilize the ground, and at the same time, says McMillan, they love to eat couch grass roots, so they do a really good job of taking out a weed that is difficult for farmers to manage.
"They are good (in) the Pemberton sun whereas a regular pig doesn't do so well, they actually sunburn," she says. "The Tamworth is also very hardy so that was one reason why we chose them."
The Tamworth is a heritage breed, a pig variety that has been around for a long time. This is noteworthy, says McMillan, because many of the commercial varieties have been specially bred to grow quickly as part of the efforts to create more efficient agriculture.
"I think the meat is a lot tastier than a regular pig," says McMillan. "They are closer to a wild boar so they have more of a gamey flavour."
For farmers like McMillan and McIsaac it isn't all about getting more bang for your farming buck, so they trade flavour and quality for a variety of pig that was almost lost forever because it is a small species that doesn't put on much weight.
"We're trying to do things with as much integrity, as well as balancing that with financial sustainability," says McMillan.
All three of the farmers allow their pigs to live stress-free lives and according to Lane, this makes for tastier meat once the pigs are sent for slaughter. Unlike commercial pig farm operations where most pigs never see natural sunlight and never experience the feeling of soil below their hooves, pigs raised on small farms get to enjoy the wonders of their world.
Another key difference between pigs raised in commercial meat settings and pigs such as McMillan's is their diets.
The big commercial operators give their pigs vitamins and antibiotics. Small farm operators tend to avoid vitamins and antibiotics in favour of a natural diet that provides everything the pigs need to be healthy.
One of the items the farmers here in Sea to Sky country like to feed their omnivores is beverage industry byproducts. The farmers in Squamish report they get the leftover mash from Howe Sound Brewing and McMillan reports her swine enjoy leftovers from the Pemberton distillery.
Don't worry; they reassure us that the pigs aren't alcoholics hooked on beer and vodka. Questions about that reminded McMillan of the day her pigs were fed mildly fermented peaches. But that is another story for another day.
When the 16 Rootdown piglets are ready for what McMillan calls "processing" they will be sent away for conversion into a form that can be easily stored in refrigerators and freezers.
Learn more about all three farms by checking out their websites. Rootdown's website is found at rootdownfarm.net, Rojo Pez Ranch information is found at eatfreerange.ca and glaciervalleyfarm.wordpress.com is the location for Glacier Valley Farm.