Monday, November 2, 2009

Our Dream

Many people I grew up with are shocked when they find out that we raise pigs. I was born in downtown Copenhagen, Denmark and immigrated to the US when I was 6 years old. I grew up in Broomfield, CO, a suburb of Denver, and grew up a city kid. Basically, I had little exposure to the farm life. I had a great uncle who had a cattle ranch in Southern Colorado. Once a year we would go visit and help during the round up. After high school my parents moved to Utah and bought a home on half an acre. They managed to squeeze in all kinds of animals on that half acre. During the time they lived there, I saw them dabble in cows, horses, ponies, chickens, pigs, goats, ducks, and sheep. They have since moved, but have hung on to the horses.

Hollie, on the other hand, grew up on a small 5 acre farm in Lehi, UT. Her dad converted an old dairy operation into a thriving apple orchard. He has about 3 of the 5 acres planted in Red and Gold Delicious apple trees. Hollie grew up with horses and chickens and they dabbled in pigs and cows. Their main focus of course was on their 700 apple trees and large family garden. Hollie grew up pruning the trees in the late winter, planting new trees in the spring, and then picking and selling in the fall. Hollie’s family still jokes about how she could out sell anybody in the family when she sold boxes of apples door to door.

Their family still tries to gather together every year to help with the apples. Sadly, the last few years sales have been down, the grown children are busy with their families, my father in law’s health isn’t what is used to be, and the new generation of potential customers doesn’t seem to have much interest in preserving their own food. Last night Hollie’s dad called and announced that he had broken even for this apple season and was done picking and selling. The orchard still has tens of thousands of apples in the trees but with so much work for so little return it isn’t worth it for my father in law. Hollie and I won’t let the apples go to waste. We will take the kids and finish picking the apples, and then feed them to the pigs. Apple finished pork is delicious and gives the pigs an additional source for nutrients. We are fully aware however, that this orchard will soon meet the fate of so many other small farms in this country. Hollie is the second youngest of 8 children and is currently the only one of her siblings who continues to live the farm life.

After Hollie and I were married, I tried my hand at my own business. It did pretty good considering my lack of business experience and although I was passionate about owning my own business, I wasn’t passionate about the industry. I sold out to my partner and enrolled for school. I decided that in order to be successful as a student and in my career, I would need to find an area of study that I was passionate about. To the disbelief of many, I decided to work towards a Bachelors degree in Agricultural Science (Agronomy). We were very fortunate to find a job managing an apartment complex that helped keep student loans to a minimum. The downside was that we were the new “parents” of 180 freshmen girls who for the most part were living on their own for their first time.

Although I had not been a star student in high school, my college studies came very easily to me. I became very interested in hydroponics and aquaponics and helped initiate the building of the first hydroponic greenhouse for the university. Getting so involved in hydroponic food production opened my eyes to the potential symbiotic relationships that could be developed to utilize waste. Hollie would come visit me in the greenhouses and see what I had been working on. My dream was beginning to form. I cruised through school graduating at the top of my class in 2.5 years. We had also turned a failing apartment complex into a successful and profitable business. The best part was that it didn’t really feel like work. (Except of course unclogging sinks full of hair in the apartments we were managing. That was just plain miserable.)

Hollie and I used to sit in bed at night and read Hobby Farms magazine. (Actually, we still do this.) We dreamed of one day owning a small plot of land that we could grow something on. Then about three years ago, Hollie called me at work and explained that she had found a little fixer upper on a couple of acres for the same price as we were paying in rent. We bought the home and have spent the last three years fixing up the house and cleaning up the land. We decided to put the land to use and start raising as much of our own food as possible. Soon we had a few people approach us and ask if we could raise a pig for them along with the ones we were raising. This lead to a few more and then a few more. We continued to research methods to raise food cleanly and efficiently.

This brings us to where we are today. We have found that we like the heritage breeds the best. We raise our own eggs, chicken, and produce. We also raise Berkshire pork which experts agree is far superior to the commercial breeds. Out of the 24 sensory qualities in pork, Berkshire is 1st place in 21 of the 24. In addition, we raise our pigs like pets. They are pampered and treated humanely. They are free to roam in our field and graze on the pasture. We don’t medicate our pigs like 99% of pigs in this country. It isn’t necessary when you raise them right. Our farm doesn’t stink either. Our pigs are fed locally grown grain and alfalfa and seasonal treats like apples and pumpkins. I honestly feel that the methods used to raise the pigs have a greater impact on the meat quality than the breed does. However, when combined, we are able to literally offer the highest quality, best tasting pork in the state. The best part is that if you look at the cost of the various cuts of meat in the store, you don’t pay any more than when you buy from us. Our pork tastes better, is healthier, is raised sustainably, is raised ethically, and is superior in every way! It hasn’t traveled a long distance meaning less pollution. Economically, buying our pork helps support our local farm and the local butcher that we use as well as other local farmers that we buy feed from. We feed our pigs any garden wastes we have. The chickens don’t get fed at all. They are able to live a healthy life just cleaning up after the pigs. This means that our eggs don’t technically cost us anything. Over the summer we raised 35 meat chickens. Other than the time they were chicks, we didn’t feed these chickens anything either. Our freezer is now full of the most flavorful chicken we have ever tasted. Our farm is healthier because of them. We had virtually no flies because the chickens kept them in check. This is symbiotic relationship because we (family, chickens, and pigs) all benefit from one another’s efforts.

My dream is to expand our efforts exponentially. I have posted before our desire to raise meat chickens to sell with our pork. However, that isn’t even scratching the surface. Hollie and I dream of having a large irrigated pasture (80+ acres). We would like to be a one stop farm. We dream of raising beef cows, dairy cows, meat goats, dairy goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, fish, bees, and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and mushrooms. Each of these animals and plants can be teamed up with other animals and plants in symbiotic relationships that are good for the land and good for the animals. I would love to have greenhouses full of fresh produce year round. I can imagine feeding the harvest wastes like lettuce roots to the pigs and cows. I would love to process as much food on the farm as possible. We would open a small store where we would sell cheese, milk, butter, cream, ice cream, eggs, beef, pork, chicken, fish, honey, turkey, bread and other baked goods, jams and juices, dried fruits, fresh fruits when in season like raspberries, blueberries, apples, pears etc…, fresh mushrooms and dried mushrooms, year round lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and sprouts. We have even dreamed of opening a small restaurant in SLC that serves only foods that were raised by us and that are fresh off the farm. We dream of opening our farm to visitors and teaching weekend courses in growing a particular food, or preserving food. We can foresee the farm hosting family reunions or weekend getaways where city folks are welcome to come try their hand at life on the farm. The fall would be especially fun with hay rides and harvesting in full swing.

If I am successful in reaching this dream, I will then begin to assist other farms across the country in setting up similar operations. My ultimate dream is to sustainably produce clean, healthy food for the local community. I would love to see everybody be able to enjoy food this good and healthy. For now we are focusing on the task at hand, raising pigs. When we have sold enough pigs, we will be able to buy the land to take the next step towards fulfilling this dream. For now, that means selling a lot of pork! We are passionate about it however, and hopefully that will lead to success.

10 comments:

Rich said...

How do you plan to raise fish in combination with the other livestock, etc.?

Some sort of greenhouse/hydroponics/fish fertilizer setup?

Christiansen's Hog Heaven said...

Rich, yes we would like to set up an aquaponic operation. I did this in college and raised 500 tillapia. We pumped the water into large gravel beds and grew tomatoes, peppers, peas, and herbs. The plants pulled the nitrates out of the water which benefited the fish. The plants were grown in 100% organic nutrient solution! As the plants grew, roots would break off and make their way back into the fish tank feeding the fish extra nutrients. The large water tank also served as a temperature buffer in the greenhouse resulting in less energy used to heat the greenhouse at night. I have a few ideas where this principle could be utilized even better to virtually eliminate heating needs.

Thomas Knight said...

I have two greenhouses in Koosharem. One is 30'x96' and the other is 18'x 96' This type of an operation would be really great. Here the winter is so cold I can't really use the greenhouses unless I run the propane furnaces which will run $5000 per year to operate.

We are working hard to figure out other ways to heat the greenhouses like water barrels heated during the day but so far it is just not enough.

Thomas Knight

Christiansen's Hog Heaven said...

Thomas, cool weather crops like lettuce can tolerate much colder temps than crops like tomatoes. Simply switching the crop grown can reduce heating costs. Otherwise, let's talk, you shouldn't have any problem growing enough crops to cover the cost of the propane and make a fair profit for your efforts.

Large water tanks buried in the ground are the most efficient way to store heat. The ground is usually around 55 degrees year round once you get below the frost line. Plus the ground is a good insulator. Simply pumping water through pipes in the greenhouse will heat the water throughout the day and then as temperatures cool, it will radiate the heat back into the greenhouse.

In Canada, they have set up some greenhouses next to large dairy farms. They coil water pipe throughout the large manure/compost piles to heat the greenhouses through the winter. A good compost pile will heat the greenhouse to 80 degrees all winter. As a bonus, you have rich dark composted soil in the spring.

If you have the room and a little capital money, a geothermal heat pump combined with your propane system can save you lots of money. You set the propane heaters to kick on when the temperature has dropped below the geothermal heat pumps range.

Earth tubes can have a similar effect. This principle utilizes the ground's constant 55 degree temperature. In theory, if you were moving enough air through the ground, you could maintain temps of 50-55 throughout the coldest nights. This will keep anything from freezing and even tomatoes will do alright during 50 degree nights. Once the sun comes up, it takes care of the rest regardless of the outside temperature as I am sure you have already experienced.

ann stoddard said...

Christian and Hollie,

DH and I are LOVING the pork. I am so, so glad I waited! DH just RAVES over the bacon and ham/ham slices. The chops have been so flavorful. I've experimented with them several different ways and they always come out delicious. Now, I'm looking forward to really cold weather to use the hamhocks in bean soup.

I'm sure you will keep us informed, but just a reminder that I WANT IN when you start selling chicken and beef. For that matter, when you start selling anything new.

a

Christiansen's Hog Heaven said...

Ann,

Thanks for great review of our pork. It is always fulfilling to hear from our customers. We are working very hard to get chicken set up although right now we don't have anything figured out. (We still can't figure out a processing solution.) Beef is coming very soon. We have already purchased some cows and are currently in negotiations to buy some Wagyu beef. We are super excited to offer this.

Mathew and Christie said...

Do you sell you pork to the public? If so I would like more information.

vernalclan@yahoo.com

christie

Stefanie B. from Mona said...

I am sure you have a lot of contacts, but in case you don't know of Joe Salatin and Polyface Farms - he would be a great resource for you....if you have read Omnivour's Delimma you're familiar with his work.

Christiansen's Hog Heaven said...

Mathew and Christie, I sent you an email but just thought I would post here as well. We absolutely will to the public and only to the public. Our goal is to offer the cleanest, freshest food at the lowest price. If you look under the "Price and Availability" link on the right of the page you can find info on ordering. Thanks for your interest and please call or email with any questions!

Christiansen's Hog Heaven said...

Stefanie,

We are big fans of PolyFace and have read several of Joel Salatin's books. We have the movie, "Fresh". Which shows lots of footage of his beautiful farm. We are striving to develop a farm similar to his. We live in a completely different climate which means we must adapt to our conditions. We have a deep respect for PolyFace, Nature's Harmony, Sugar Mountain and others. We consider all of them mentors. Thanks for the reference!