A Visit to This Old Farm

December 14, 2014

Everyone wants to believe that the meat they purchase comes from animals treated with respect on small family farms, but when you’re shopping the meat department at a conventional grocery store, you have little connection to the suppliers of the commodity meat products being sold. Even at grocery stores with a more natural orientation, it’s not always clear how well the animals are treated or what their living conditions are. This Old Farm supports local farmers who produce humanely-raised meat, making it easy for you to find a brand you can trust from the first squeal of a piglet to the last gobble of a turkey.

This Old Farm began as a single farm operated by Jessica and Erick Smith. Unhappy with their processing options, they decided to build their own slaughterhouse just miles from their farm near Colfax, Indiana (72 miles from Bloomington). They now represent, process, and market for 20 farms that produce a range of products including pork, beef, poultry, lamb, as well as organic produce. While “This Old Farm” has grown from the name of a single farm to a brand encompassing an alliance of farms, they are committed to source-traceable products, meaning that each and every package of meat lists the exact farm it came from. However big they become, you will always have that connection to the individual farms supplying the meat you purchase.

Many suppliers of natural foods stores raise their animals without antibiotics these days. It is one of the easiest changes to make from conventional production methods, and gives them something to shout about on their package. And while it is one of the more important issues for human health, given the issue of antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases, it is not the only issue to consider when assessing the quality of meat. This Old Farm sets itself apart from other suppliers by offering only animal products raised on pasture-based farms.

What does This Old Farm mean by pasture-based? Given that phrases such as “pasture based” and “free range” have no enforced definition, there is often uncertainty about what it means or concern that manufacturer’s are taking advantage of the phrase even when they know that the actual living conditions of the animals don’t meet the expectations of the customer. In the case of This Old Farm, it’s everything you would expect, and more.

When I envisioned how the pigs were raised, I imagined they had a barn and a modest amount of green grass and mud to run around on, just for fun. That would have satisfied me. On a tour of the This Old Farm original property, Jessica explained that the pigs are actually raised primarily in the woods, where they are free to exhibit all their natural behaviors and satisfy their curiosities. The wooded areas are divided into sections, and the pigs live for so long in each section before being moved to another to prevent them from devouring and destroying all plant life in the woods.

Mud baths are great for your skin, try one today!
Mud baths are great for your skin, try one today!

This is more labor intensive than simply raising them in closed barns all their life (imagine convincing a bunch of pigs that yes, yes they do need to get into the trailer to move to another woods), but produces a happier and healthier pig. In addition to all the fun they have (check out the pigs above and below), being in the woods allows them to forage for the food. This means that a substantial part of their diet in warmer months comes from fresh foraged food and not just grain. Even in the Winter, when the pigs spend most of their time camping out in barns, their diet of grain, hay, haylage, and alfalfa is supplemented with at least 15% greens.

I'm actually jealous of these pigs right now. Who wants to be a pig with me?
I’m actually jealous of these pigs right now. Who wants to be a pig with me?

This Old Farm has several suppliers of their regular pasture-raised pork (Jack Hunt and Phelps Family Farm supply most of the pork coming to Bloomingfoods), as well as a supplier of certified organic pork. Everything you get with the regular pastured pork, plus the fact that they use locally-raised (not from China, yo!), certified-organic feed.

In the case of beef, pasture-raised means just about everything you would imagine: the cattle are on grass. While This Old Farm has worked with a 100% grass-fed supplier in the past (you may have seen this product in our stores), his product is currently unavailable and the only beef being sold is from a number of farms that offer grain-finished beef. Grain-finishing beef for the last few months allows the animal to be brought up to slaughter-weight much more rapidly. While many are concerned about the effect of feeding grain on the animal, one benefit is that more meat can be produced on the same amount of land.

Cow

In addition to the cuts of pork and beef sold at East and Elm, This Old Farm also offers certified organic pork, chicken, certified organic chicken, and turkey. If there is a cut of meat you are looking for that isn’t available in store, we can special order it! Email Justin at eastmeat@bloomingfoods.coop for more information on pricing and delivery schedule. Like most of our local suppliers, This Old Farm will cut to order, so if you want a 3 inch thick ribeye steak or a six pound pork shoulder, we can make it happen.

by Justin See