A Passion for Heritage Pigs

A burgeoning pig farmer perseveres through rough patches to provide pastured pork to farm-to-table restaurants.

| June/July 2017

It began innocently enough in the fall of 2015 at a Mother Earth News Fair at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort outside of Donegal, Pennsylvania. I was there as a small-town newspaper reporter covering the event. I attended a lecture on raising rabbits, watched someone demonstrate aspects of bushcraft, and rode a ski lift up the mountain. But it was in the livestock tent that I received that fateful bolt of inspiration.

There, I bumped into Dave Cronauer of White Bison Farm in Laona, Wisconsin. He stood next to a small, straw-filled enclosure where spotted piglets snoozed among half-eaten apples. He explained that they were a new heritage pig breed called the Idaho Pasture Pig — a mix of Berkshire, Duroc, and Kunekune that was developed specifically to thrive on grass.

Though I was working as a reporter in Wheeling, West Virginia, I’d moved back to my family’s recently vacated farm in nearby St. Clairsville, Ohio, to start a grass-fed cattle operation. My wife, Christine, was a newly minted Ph.D. in agricultural economics. And my grandfather had successfully raised commodity beef on the 150-acre property for years. But for various reasons, we couldn’t come up with a workable plan.

“But what about pigs?” I thought to myself as I finished up with the day’s reporting. I could start small with a trial run of two, making for the perfect first enterprise. I texted the chef-owner of a farm-to-table restaurant back home in the Ohio Valley and asked if he was interested in pastured pork.

As luck would have it, he was. We agreed on $3 per pound. And at 34 years old, I began my first venture into agriculture.

Six months later, my dream became 40 pounds of wriggling reality as Dave’s wife, Jodi, dropped a piglet into my arms. She carried the second back to our vehicle.

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