Food Rescue…

Or a Man of la Mancha approach to fighting the climate crisis and building a just, sane, local food system

As some of you may know our approach to farming is a little different than most people’s. It’s not terribly original or innovative, it’s actually more like a slightly refined version of arguably the oldest agricultural traditions there is: slopping pigs. This year we have diverted somewhere in the ballpark of 1,117,802 lbs of fruits and vegetables from Road Runner Food Bank, plus half that amount again from other grocery stores, breweries, distilleries, bakeries, mills, and farms. While some of this food would most likely have made its way back into the agricultural system without our efforts much of it would have ended up in the landfill except for our intervention.

The venerable porcine has been co-evolving with humans for thousands and thousands of years. Their versatility in living and thriving off of village scraps, foraging in forests, and whatever other organic byproduct that might otherwise be left to rot has made them an easy keeping companion for people all over the world as far back as history is recorded. 

And while the tradition of fattening hogs out on kitchen scraps and wooded pastures has been largely replaced in the industrialized food system by the single least efficient food production system ever conceived, the old way of doing things has not lost its relevance. In fact we believe it is more relevant now than ever before. 
Nearly half or the food we produce today gets lost somewhere along the way. Between crops that never get harvested, losses from thousands of miles of transportation, off spec food that is perfectly edible but doesn’t aesthetically fit the retailers demands, all the way down to the food that spoils in your fridge an absolutely insane amount of food gets thrown away. This obscene over abundance is made even more despicable by the prevalence of food insecurity and hunger in our society. Given the rapidly diminishing soil fertility in our nations and worlds crop producing regions, and the myriad of serious ecological crisis’s from a dysfunctional atmosphere to dry aquifers and broken water cycles, so much food going into the landfill is just….bad… really bad… 

Food waste that goes into the landfill off puts lots of methane. Methane has 25 times the green house gas effect of carbon dioxide. If we stopped throwing food in the trash it would be the equivalent of getting Russia to stop polluting, entirely. The amount of food that gets thrown away by retailers just because it is starting to run short on shelf life (not even because its expired but just because it is getting close to being expired) could feed a small country. 
So over the last few years we have been refining and expanding our food rescue efforts and working on improving our methods for growing out hogs and simultaneously creating compost. We are also very happy that we have been able to divert a lot of food to our local food banks, both directly from retailers and wholesalers and through collecting donations at the shop to purchase local food for our community. It’s quite the adventure, and we really appreciate you all joining us along the way. Thanks so much and hope you all continue to enjoy a blessed holiday season. 

Heritage…and why we think it’s important.

Or why I spent 30 hours driving deep into the hill country of southwest Texas
Red Waddle Mangalitsa cross piglets

People often comment on the quality of the meat we produce, and while we like to think we can take a little bit of credit for the final taste the truth is a lot of it has much more to do with the type of hogs we raise. We keep what people refer to as Heritage breed hogs. This is a kind of catch all term for hogs that are not one of the specialized ‘commercial breeds’. While all pigs are in some sense pigs, some pigs are more piggy than other pigs. All pigs are equal, but indeed some pigs are more equal than others. 

What they look like all grown up.

Commercialized breeds are ones that have been selectively bred for traits that conform to the needs of large commercial producers. That is to say they have been genetically manipulated to take as much of the pigginess out of them as possible (and I would argue the taste as well). They want pigs that are good uniform cogs in their industrial machine. The focus is on how quickly they can reproduce and convert corn and soy to lean meat. The specifically do not want animals that want to root, waller, play and enjoy life. Because when you are a cog in the industrial machine displaying any of your innate tendencies is a liability.

We started our herd with a bunch of Red Waddles, a heritage breed that originated in Texas and is known for their dark red hides and little appendages that dangle from their jowl lines called waddles. Red waddles are somewhat similar to Duroc’s (another old breed of hogs known for producing big meaty hogs). When we started breeding we brought in a Duroc boar named Gentle Ben, creating what is called cross-breed vigor (purebred is just a fancy way of saying inbred and that’s not something we encourage). Then we brought in Mangalitsas, which are a very rare breed of heritage breed hogs prized for their healthy and delicious lard. They are also covered in hair, which in addition to the lard makes them basically immune to harsh winter conditions.  

Boris, a beautiful boar.

The downside is they do pack on a lot of fat. I mean a lot a lot. Like as much fat as meat a lot. So for the next generation of hogs we shipped off our mangalitsa boar to a ranch in Colorado, and brought in a purebred Red Waddle boar that is unrelated to our original stock. His name is Deuces. He’s a sweet fella. His harem is mostly half Red Waddle, half Mangalitsa sows, which will give us quarter mangalitsa piglets. Hopefully this will temper the amount of fat we get while keeping the quality of the lard up and giving our animals an advantage in winter months. While getting to decide which blood lines you keep, move on, or bring in can be a lot of fun, one challenging thing about choosing to strive for the most piggiest of pigs, and the most adapt pigs for a non-conventional operation, is that you have to think about things a couple years ahead of time. It takes generations to make a change. So even as we are just getting into swing with our new genetic composition of mostly Red waddle/mangalitsa piggies we are already looking down the line at what the next evolution in the gene pool will be, and thinking about how we will continue to add genetic diversity to our herd. Which brings us back to Texas. 

Hill country in Texas.

Some of our long time farmers market customers from years ago split their time between Albuquerque and their ranch in the hill country of west Texas. Feral hogs, which are cross between domestic breeds that got loose and Russian wild boar (which was intentionally introduced for sport hunting) have become a huge presence and are considered by most to be a pest and a huge problem. Ranchers will routinely trap and dispatch wild pigs to try to keep the population down and protect their crops and pastures for cows.  Last week our friends called us up and told us they had caught a whole group of wild hogs. They harvested the big ones to fill their freezer for the winter, but three of the young females they had wrangled into a stock trailer… Did we want them? 
Hell yes we wanted them. So I jumped in a pickup truck and booked it all the way across Texas, loaded the three little boogers into a dog crate, and now we are in the pig taming business. 

New additions to the herd.

This is definitely a bit of an experiment. These little guys will undergo a serious quarantine period and get bathed and scrubbed and de-wormed before they go anywhere near our herd. It will take a couple years to get them big enough to breed, breed them, and raise out their young to butcher size. Should be very interesting. Part of the motivation here is admittedly kicks and giggles. Another reason we are excited about this little project is that the food system will have to change a lot in decades to come. Antibiotic resistant diseases that kill pigs have wiped out nearly half the global population of domesticated hogs in the last few years. African Swine Flu killed as many hogs in China in one year as we have in the United States, and according to the USDA its not a matter of if, but a matter of when this disease makes it here. When that happens our highly consolidated indoor factory hog production will no longer make any sense. (Not that it really makes sense now). Hopefully my incorporating these genetics into our herd we can begin to introduce people to what this kind of pork tastes like, and start to shift consumers mindsets toward embracing the idea of replacing the factory cog pseudo pork with the rich and life filled sustenance of wild meat. 

Spring Equinox, 2017


We let the pigs out to pasture today. They’ve been getting restless plowing up the winter pens getting them ready for spring planting. The north pen behind the house we are fixing up for my older brothers family (and their future yard), was already in need of a mow. After a long few months of scraping by with weeds, buried pinon nuts, malted barley, oats, blue corn beer, alfalfa, fruits and vegetables, bread, pastries, cake, and the occasional romp around in the snow searching for sparse winter grass, our little horde of mobile-fertilizing, tilling, wallowing, jumping and skipping little porkers was back at fresh grass. And oh did they love it.

And they were not the only ones loving all the awesomeness happening underground right now. While turning the mulch around one of our apple trees I found that the gophers had gone full beaver status on the roots, leaving nothing but a bare stem in the middle of deep, dark earth teaming with worms, grubs, bugs, spider eggs and bergillions of tiny, unrecognizable critters coming to life.



What are you going to do? Other of course than continue raging relentless war against the little beasts? Build snake habitats? Train cats? Full blown caddy shack perhaps? I digress.

Luckily we scored some honey crisp trees the other day that will make very suitable replacements for our fallen friend, who has now been chopped and scattered in the little piece of earth he so briefly flourished in to feed the fungi that will nurture and feed the roots of his successor.

The chickens are laying away and three dozen new chicks are finally out of the living room (where they resided in the stock tank next to the fireplace that holds wood during the end of winter).


We did eventually finish the well house, and set up a glass blowing studio and small shop (which occasionally doubles as a green house, silversmithing shop, or cider house). The hole in the laundry room floor lasted a whole year before I got around to relaying the three layers of floor and reinstalling the washer and dryer.

We got the fence in last winter and the county inspector showed up a half hour early, right as we were unloading a horse we borrowed from a friend to demonstrate agricultural use of the land (apparently grazing pigs and chickens doesn’t count).  Now we are trudging through the process of getting all of our governmental T’s and Q’s in order and getting waylaid by county bureaucrats that inform us we cannot conduct any business from our farm or allow people to come visit because we are in a ‘residential zone’. Boogers.


Oh well. They pigs don’t seem to notice, so I guess we will just continue as normal. Our new Duroc boar, Gentle Ben, is getting along fine, and Big Mamma should be throwing her first litter of piglets at the beginning of summer.  Lord willing and the creek don’t rise we will have half a dozen more hogs ready for market by then, and this year you will be able to find us at the Cedar Crest Farmers Market, Roots Farm Cafe, Beneficial Farms CSA, and of course here on Polk’s Folly.




The Well House…AKA Squirrelin’ Out!

El Nino is not messing about this year and its chill cuts deep. The snow is packed and the road is shot, but the birds are still out and about and we are slowly plugging away at the endless amount of projects that have been stacking up for the last 40 years. The day after Thanksgiving the temperature plummeted into the teens while we were all away at a friends house enjoying a BBQ and some ‘friendsgiving’. We returned to find the water pipes had frozen, setting off a chain reaction of failures that left us dry for several days. After the sun had come out the following day and the temperatures ruled out the possibility of frozen pipes, we set about investigating the water system housed in a 200 sq ft shack in the middle of the property, the well house. 40 years of junk, some of it quite valuable, had accumulated a thick layer of dust, and the clutter was so thick it it felt like doing ballet just to get to the back corner where the electric panel hung loosely on the metal sheet walls, and the exposed wires crudely connect to the switch that activates the well pump, which in turn fills two pressurized water tanks that feed the entire property.

We discovered that the sudden deep freeze had sealed a line coming into the well house, which in turn caused the switch to continually self activate, burning out both the switch and the electric panel. The tanks in turn drained out, froze, and failed.  Guess it was about time for a new water system anyways…

And while we were at it we figured the lines under the house could probably use some new heat tape and insulation, and the well house could definitely use a little touch up. If your gonna do a job you may as well do it right, no? So I bought a gas mask and some goggles, layered on the protection, and jumped right into it, figured we could have it banged out in a few days =)

Crawled under the house, braving the brutal goat heads layering the floor and the millions of spiders, peeled off the old insulation, started lining the water lines with electric heat tapes, prayed every minute that I wouldn’t find any leaks, and made it almost all the way to the end when I reached a cross beam I couldn’t crawl under.

Oh well. Crawled back out and switched back to the well house. We started pulling everything out. Eleven cans of wood stain, 50 lb box of the little clips you use to secure suspenders, a pottery kiln, antique paint spray gun, enough chemicals of various sorts to kill a small village, on and on.

And once it was empty we figured if we came this far we might as well keep going. So we started pulling what was left of the drywall down and the little bit of insulation that had been mostly converted into rats nests as well. Patched up the giant gapping holes in the metal, sheared up a few of the wooden supports, took down all the old electrical conduit and random crap and and swept out mounds and mounds of dust and rat shit and even some disintegrated rodent poison bags that they probably don’t sell anymore for safety reasons.

Mean while my parents bought themselves a new washing machine and offered to let us take the old one, and seeing as how every day we were coming away covered in the accumulated dust of decades it seemed like a good idea. So we pulled the old washer, which barely worked, and deposited it in rust’n’piece. But when we went to bring the new one in we noticed that the floor was slanting pretty hard to the outside wall and seemed a bit too flexible for our liking. So we thought we would just take a peek, see what the trouble seemed to be….

We discovered that the slight slant was due to the fact that the foundation of the house was sinking into the dirt. To be fair ‘foundation’ is probably too generous. It was just one 4×4. This part of the house must have been added on later, as you can see the original siding of the house on one side. And whoever did this addition must have been practicing some marijuana mechanics, because its pretty janky. Worse yet, when the foundation started to sink years ago, instead of fixing the problem someone layered some 2×4 and 1×4 down and just laid a new floor over it that at least looked flat. So now we have a huge hole in our floor. Oops. The bright side is it gave us access to the last bit of water pipe I couldn’t reach before, and even better we discovered that there is a septic line running right by their, so we can add in some drains for a proper wash room! Squirrel…


Back to the well house. Seeing as how we had put so much effort into gutting the thing, we thought it would be wise to take the opportunity to convert it into some sort of useable space. So we packed in the insulation, got our resident electrician (our brother Hambone) to wire up the whole building for 110 and 220, new breaker box to control all of the power in all the out buildings, hardwired light fixtures, the works. Then we took a crack at hanging drywall and started finishing it out. Its not quite there yet but we are getting close.

Now back to the house, and the giant gapping hole in the floor. First we cut out some siding so we could get under the wall, jacked up the entire wall until it was almost even, dug out some holes, stacked cinderblock underneath the walls, and poured cement into the blocks to create a solid foundation. Unfortunately while we were waiting for the cement to cure (takes a suprisingly long time when you are getting hit with snow storms every few days), the wall started to peel off of the building. So we made an attempt to lag the wall back to the building, but the wood is so ancient it won’t hold the bolts. And seeing as there are no solid foundation blocks to anchor off of we find ourselves at an impasse. TBC…


In other news the county has informed us that we have till the 3rd week of January to have out property completely fenced in and have either animals on the property or a signed contract saying we will be buying animals or we will be rezoned as residential, which would mean up to 1000% increase in our property taxes. So the first batch of pigs will be coming soon.. Hopefully quickly followed by chickens. If anyone wants to help run fence this weekend Ill buy the beer…