It was a foggy and chilly October day in Alberta when I interviewed Joanne Vanden Broek of Broek Pork Acres. “Right now through the fog, I can see glimpses of the Berkshire pigs rooting around, foraging for food. This is our philosophy. We let animals be themselves. They can roam the pastures; take morning naps in the sun. They seem so much more content, and the way they live certainly creates a superior product.”
Joanna and her husband Allan both grew up on hog farms. Being what they were most familiar with, and knowing they wanted to raise their 9 children on a farm, they bought their first piglets in 2000. They started with White hogs, which are most commonly used in factory farming as they have been bred to grow quickly with large loins.
“ There is not a lot of room to do things differently within the industrial farming model,” shares Joanne. “You have to keep costs very low and grow the animals as quickly as possible because the prices are set and you have to make a living. It is not beneficial to the quality of the product, nor its quality of life.”
The Vanden Broeks started doing research about how to raise pigs more naturally. “Nobody locally was doing it, so we were completely reliant on the Internet at the time,” explains Joanne.
They read about the Berkshire breed, a heritage breed that is known to be hardy and more adaptable to environmental factors, a prized quality in animals raised in Alberta. By 2007 they were weaning out the white pigs and introducing Berkshires, raising them on pasture without antibiotics or hormones.
7 years later, the Vanden Broeks are often finding that their demand outweighs the supply as people get on board for heritage pork raised from farm to plate with such extreme attention to quality. Broek Pork Acres has even taken control of the processing of their pigs, an aspect of raising meat animals that most farmers no longer take part in.
“We were renting an abattoir every other week, but they were not flexible with our needs. We also found that we had no idea what our product was looking like coming out of the abattoir before it was shipped out. We wanted to have control over every step, and be part of the whole life cycle of our animals, so we got trained on butchery,” Joanne explains.
“ The main thing is that an animal that is raised well in a happy, relaxed environment is going to create a better product. Nature takes care of most of it. Our hogs have free choice of activities and what to forage, which make them automatically superior to something that is so controlled for the dollar,” shares Joanna.
Taste the difference in heritage pork for yourself. You can find a variety of Broek Pork Acres products in the meat department of your nearest Community Natural Foods.
By Lauren Mangion, Conscious Home