Often times when someone has our meats for the first time they are baffled by the flavorful experience and immediately ask how something they thought they had known so well and grown up on, like pork, could taste so different . Genetics play a big role in consistency and quality along with animal welfare, being raised in sunshine with healthy forage, diet, and slaughter methods. That answer isn't good enough, because the reply is then “why isn't anyone else doing that then!?”. There are some great farm models out there with similar practices that don’t achieve near the same taste and quality. Wether it be the Berkabaw, Patterson’s Registered Berkshire or our Ossabaw, it can be imitated elsewhere but not duplicated anywhere. The answer is not found in merely one factor. It is the totality of all factors here at AOF that creates a product unique unto our farms in the shadow of the Blue Ridge. The french word “Terroir” (ter-wahr) captures the absolutely incredible diversity of the local biology. Terroir encompasses every factor imaginable from ecology, geography, hydrology, genetics, soil contents, and the other boundless, unmeasurable factors that is only available through nature’s masterful complexity. The term Terroir is used amongst wine makers for describing the unique attributes that their grapes pull from the earth from which they are rooted in. A hog is a great comparison to deep rooted plants because unlike many other livestock animals, they consume much more of the environment they are immersed in when raised outdoors. If you ever see a hog with a nose ring you can be sure it isn't living the life nature intended. While many animals graze on what grows on top of the soil, the hog actually roots down into and eats the soil itself while seeking the above and below ground forage it holds. They literally “wear the terroir,” absorbing available minerals and nutrients. Our Hogs are raised outdoors, free to forage, roam, and root. This allows them to dig and root for plants, insects, roots, seeds, fruits, nuts, and countless plant varieties that make up the Shenandoah Valley. The water here is deeply embedded in limestone, and the Blue Ridge Mountains are the oldest mountain range in the world. They create a soil and water that is rich in minerals, vitamins, and nutrients unique to this farm. In that biome of factors lies the answer to our unique characteristics and the deliciousness of the product.
Sustainable farming is a virtue this farm was founded on. From our beginnings of using goats to reclaim our family farm that had fallen dormant to invasive plants, we have been working to achieve a continual harmonious balance with nature. To really talk about “sustainable” instead of merely dropping a trending keyword you have to be talking about commitment to a picture bigger than that of yourself. This requires putting in work for changes and benefits through farming practices that will be reaped by future generations. We are simply being proper stewards of this earth we all share. Autumn Olive Farms started with an innovative and unique model of using portable electric fencing to move and contain our Boer Bok goats on lands consumed with invasive plants. The goats eat the invasives and as a result fertilize the soil with their manure restoring balance to the land. The variety of forage produced a phenomenal flavor profile that wasn't attainable by simple grazing. We incorporated hogs into the same model with appropriate adjustments to achieve similar results. We have had greater success with pigs in eradicating fescue grass and diminishing the enormous invasive seed bank in the soil after 27 years of regrowth. The animals are tools in the right hands for accomplishing land and soil reclamation.
When multiple hurricanes hit eastern North Carolina like Floyd in 1999 and Florence in 2018 it inevitably flushed staggering amounts of pooled hormone and chemical laden toxic hog waste and dead hogs across the region’s flood plain. It created huge dead zones for aquatic life decimating the local ecology. That is a glaring example of decision making that is clouded by shortcuts and profit. It allows for practices and business models to operate with no integrity or investment in the future of this earths ecology that we depend on so dearly. These shocking and now increasingly common factory farming practices and neglect are allowed to expand in a commodity industry largely due to the fact that these animals are raised in a world seldom visited or made aware to the consumer that makes up a majority of this country. You can’t disagree with what you aren't aware of.
For instance think about the enthusiasm someone has when they get to visit a farmers market or the actual local farm to buy the products onsite and in view of the farming practices. It lets customers see what kind of people, farm, and conditions their products are coming from and instills a confidence in the product when it is raised with care. We invite our customers to come visit our farm to see what we do and the kind of farming their animals come from. Since we raise our animals from birth, our breeding programs allow you to see from farrow to finish and view the entire life of our animals live. Customers are always empowered by this and their confidence in our products is solidified.
Now to contrast, for anyone that has driven through eastern North Carolina's factory hog farming or a horrifyingly barren mid west cattle feed lot, you have experienced a little taste of the conditions a commodity animal endures its entire life. You are driving along when that conversation interrupting putrid and piercing odor from those factory farms pushes its way into your car polluting the air of the entire region. Without thinking you stomp the accelerator to escape the nauseating and dry heaving purgatory of smell that you have found yourself prisoner to and the responsible factory farm might not even be in sight. Our disconnect with supermarket meats and their origins is so shameful that we don't immediately make a direct association drawing from that experience with the commodity meat on the shelves in stores. Now imagine that farmer smelling of his commodity farm at your local farmers market selling meats that lived their entire lives in those miserable conditions. Even worse, imagine having to buy that commodity farmed meat onsite, witnessing herds of animals raised in misery to live and die having never even had our life source the sun touch upon their skin. You would be holding your breathe while the cashier makes change for your purchase and feeling like you need to throw your clothes directly in the washer when you return home from the odor alone. That is a picture that can’t be painted at the grocery store when you pull off a package of sale meat to drop in your cart to then continue going about systematically marking off items from your grocery list.
We admittedly have been on both sides of similar examples because there was a time we didn't know better. It is terrifying when the veil is removed and food sources are exposed that so many of us were and are blind to. Our opposition to the status quo is a huge driving force in our commitment, ethics, and goals in changing what this country puts on their plate. We pride ourselves in the ways we cultivate a happy and healthy animal living in ways they are naturally designed to. We don't adorn ourselves in titles and certifications that require a mere payment to receive and has no oversight or system in place for reporting violations and contention of such ethics. We offer complete transparency and honesty because we are confident and proud in how we conduct and run this farm and feel that it tells the true story. That goes beyond whatever fence of certifications someone has payed for and put up to offer the assumption of ethics. We all find ourselves busier than ever these days and investigating each avenue and source of the ingredients on our plate would be a full time job in and of itself. We always offer honest products with transparency to reinforce why you continue to love what we raise. As long as there is money involved there will be farms big and small dishonestly selling animals that never stepped foot on their actual farm. We walk our animals out of their pastures every week to be weighed and hand selected for desired finish for the weekly sales and even pass along photos of such to the receiving chefs and butchers that week. When you see pictures of those animals being born on the same soil that they are later hand selected from, it gives you confidence in our farm and your product that surpasses any claims or marketing ploys.
We look forward to continue working with and providing the absolute best products to the finest chefs, butchers, and establishments across the region. Like most artisans we love what we do and endeavor to be the best in our field. We are committed to providing products that further your passion for food and restore the love that has been trimmed from the ever increasing commodity world. We would love to work with you and explore the possibilities that these heritage breeds provide. Visit the Contact & Sales to get started today.