August 2012, CIAS convened a meeting of people passionate about specialty pork. Specialty-finished, heritage breed pork is much-sought-after, especially by restauranteurs interested in an authentic, innovative and sustainable menu item. Heirloom breeds, unique finishes, and artisanal processing are coming together to give consumers a taste of regional flavor. In the Upper Midwest prok finished with hazelnuts, chestnuts, acorns, and apples provide that regional flavor. This one-day forum, co-hosted by Rooted Spoon Kitchen Table, brought together farmers, processors, restaurants and vendors to discuss regional pork. They shared their expertise and experiences, and discussed next steps toward developing a regional supply chain for local pork.
More than 30 stakeholders from around southern Wisconsin gathered in Viroqua for a forum on the region’s nascent specialty pork sector. Some pasture-based hog farmers have begun finishing their animals with specialty products to alter the flavor and distinguish their products to consumers. CIAS recognized that this could be a new niche for small- and medium-scale pasture-based operations in the state, and so we convened a forum to discuss its potential. We posed the question of whether a marketing program akin to “Wisconsin Specialty Pork” could serve participants along the pastured pork value chain. With farmers, processors, vendors, and representatives from CIAS in the room, the group held a lively one-day discussion on issues facing the growth of a specialty pork economy.
We first heard from growers Jeannie Herold (Hazel Valley Farm) and Mark Osterberg (Hawk’s Cry Farm) on the value they’ve found in hazelnut-finished hogs. Both Herold and Osterberg began their operations with hazelnuts before incorporating hogs. Without the necessary industrial facilities available, they have found that pigs are the next-best way to process their hazelnut crop. Herold sells her pork directly to consumers, and she reports that her customers appreciate the rich flavor the meat takes from the nuts.
Next Christopher Pax (Black Earth Meats), Scott Buer (Bolzano Artisan Meats), and Tim Blokhuis (Pete’s Meats) presented on the state of specialty pork from the processor’s perspective. During a break, Caitlin Henning (MSc candidate in Agroecology) discussed her fieldwork on denominations of origin for specialty pork in Spain and how lessons from that country could help farmers and vendors in Wisconsin market specialty pork as a terroir product.
For the final panel discussion, Jeremy Johnson (Willy Street Grocery Cooperative), Nik Novak (Together Farms), and Talish Barrow (Graze Restaurant) talked with the group about marketing challenges and opportunities for specialty-finished pork. While the panelists haven’t yet observed consumer demand for specialty finishing, their businesses have responded to consumer interest in local and pasture-raised pork. Barrow proposed that specialty finishing could be another niche for farmers and vendors with the right amount of consumer education.
Most farmers attending the event were curious about whether specialty finishing could work for their operations. Surveys completed during the event indicate that there is interest in both specialty finishing and product aggregation to take advantage of larger markets and niche consumers.
Another note – if you are on FaceBook, check out the Black Pork site. Lovely photos! https://www.facebook.com/BlackPorks
|Last Name||First Name||Affiliation/Organization|
|Armbrust||Matt||Organic Processing Institute|
|Bernardoni||Bob||Roller Coaster Farm|
|Buer||Scott||Bolzano Artisan Meats|
|Doherty||Charlotte||Roller Coaster Farm|
|Fox||Dan||Fox Heritage Foods|
|Fox||Art||Fox Heritage Foods|
|Goetzman||Sandra||Fair Wind Farm|
|Goetzman||Tom||Fair Wind Farm|
|Herold||Jeannie||Hazel Valley Farm|
|Hoch||Harry||Hoch Orchard and Gardens|
|Holmstrom||Deanne||Holmstrom’s Grassy Acres|
|Holstrom||Jamie||Holmstrom’s Grassy Acres|
|Hunter||Jonny||Underground Food Collective|
|Johnstone-Buer||Christin||Bolzano Artisan Meats|
|Mabe||Nick||Hoch Orchard and Gardens|
|McCann||Nick||Iowa State Univerisity|
|Osterhaus||Mark||Hawk’s Cry Farm|
|Pax||Christopher||Black Earth Meats|
|Schriefer||Gene||Iowa County UWEX|
|Wright||Carla||Organic Processing Institute|