Q&A with Farmer/Chef Ben Bebenroth on Raising Happy Pigs

As part of our sustainable growing approach at Spice Acres, we run a small pig program (the program is small, not the pigs!). Caring for these demanding animals isn’t easy, but we do it for three reasons:

  1. The pigs eat 250-300 lbs. of non-compostable food scraps from our restaurant each week, closing the loop and saving trash from landfills.
  2. They rut around fenced, high-brush areas of the farm, turning over the soil for new growing areas.
  3. They are a conversation piece during our farm tours, garnering lots of attention and  giving us a chance to educate folks about their role on the farm.

Our farm manager, Andrea Heim and Chef Ben take pride in raising happy hogs. And at the end of their active farm life they are honored with a menu we’ve prepared to highlight their very best attributes. Join us for the Spice Acres Plated Landscape Hog Roast on June 23 to taste for yourself.  

 

We caught up with Chef/Farmer Ben Bebenroth and asked him to answer the three most asked questions they get on the farm about their pigs.

Does feeding the pigs non-compostable scraps from the restaurant make the meat taste better?

Not necessarily. If anything, it makes the meat wetter; the fat does not set up in solids like it does with soy-fed pork. Their primary source of nutrition is a non-GMO grain mix called Swine Grower. This is supplemented by 200-300 lbs. of non-compostable post-consumer food waste from Spice Kitchen + Bar each week. In their final weeks, we may choose to introduce toasted soybeans to their diet, or move them to a section of the farm where they can graze on acorns or other nuts—this practice typically makes the meat taste a little different and, to some people, better.

What types of pigs do you have on the farm?

We most recently bred Blue Butt & Belted hogs. These are commodity hogs that are raised for their big butts (loin and ham) and long bellies (bacon). They’ve been great on the farm and have nice personalities, but we’re shifting the program to specialize in heritage breeds in the future. We have one Mangalitsa hog—my kids call her “Curletta” because of her curly coat—who we’ll send to New Creation Farm for breeding and farrowing this fall.

Mangolitsas are lard hogs that put on fat quicker, but take longer to grow—generally 10-12 months instead of the typical 6-8 month lifespan of our Blue Butt/Belteds. The additional fat has been helpful to generations past; Mangolitsas were actually a primary source of cooking oil in Europe prior to World War II. For us, this makes them ideal for charcuterie and more expensive preparations. We’ll likely do more pates, terrines, and I’m also envisioning some dry-aged sausage and prosciutto.

What have you learned in the last two years of raising pigs?

I’ve learned through this process that I have a deep respect for these animals. They’re the most efficient source of handling the food waste from the restaurant – instead of sending it to the dumpster, they transform it right back into a life force that sustains our own lives.

I’ve been intrigued with how much time they spend with the dirt. They spend their days eating the soil, grubs, and roots. We, in turn, receive that hearty nutrition through their meat. Having them out on pasture is crucial. The majority of hogs grown in America today are grown indoors on concrete and it’s just unnatural – it’s not good for the pigs and not good for the people. I understand it from a volume, safety and business perspective, but I personally would never eat hogs raised in this way. In my opinion, it’s more important to allow a pig to live and evolve in its own way. The health and happiness of an animal is then reflected in the nutrition on the plate.