Heritage Farms Northwest is located on 45 green acres tucked away amid the rolling hills beyond Dallas. There, Jim and Wendy Parker indulge their passion for pigs, specifically, Red Wattle Hogs – a heritage breed. The Parkers chose this breed for its gentleness and ease of handling and for the fine flavor of the meat, which has gained a reputation for great marbling and outstanding flavor, characteristics lacking in much of today’s commercially-raised pork.
I can testify to the flavor. Last summer, I purchased a large pork shoulder from the Parkers at the Salem Saturday Market, which I slow-cooked and prepared by Michael Pollan’s recipe. The meat was delicious – sweet-salty, almost nutty, with lovely crackling. As Julia Child famously said “Fat makes things taste good.” I find it sad that in our fixation on healthful eating, we have practically eliminated fat from much of our meat, rendering it dry, tough and tasteless. Sad too, because animal fat, eaten in moderate amounts, is an important and necessary nutrient.
On my visit to the farm, Wendy comes out to greet me. She has a head of black curls, bright blue eyes and, like all the farmers I visit, she radiates enthusiasm, happy to talk about pigs for hours. The hogs at Heritage Farms Northwest roam freely in large grassy pastures of around 20 acres each, providing them a clean, natural environment in which to live.
We visit a group of breeding sows who are busy scarfing up food from a trough. The Parkers supplement the pasturage with ground soy (recently switching to all-organic soy) clover silage, and locally-grown wheat. Occasionally, the hogs get a treat of past-its-prime broccoli or cabbage from a neighboring farm, but the pigs are not fed any food waste or table scraps. When just starting out, Wendy fed the pigs some day-old white bread from a nearby commercial bakery “But I realized I was embarrassed to feed them empty carbs in front of people. I decided if I don’t want to show people what I’m doing, I won’t do it.”
A pig comes over to us and leans against my leg, nearly knocking me sideways. These big mamas weigh 600 hundred pounds and they love to be scratched. I have only known one pig, and not closely, so it’s a little intimidating to be surrounded by these giant creatures, friendly as they may be.
Usually a couple of litters are born every month. The pigs are butchered at between 6-10 months old; the older they are the more flavorful the meat. Five pigs are butchered every other week by Mt. Angel Meats, an Animal Welfare Approved facility. Bacon is sent to Mt. Angel or Taylor’s Sausage in Cave Junction for processing. Recently the Parkers sent a trial batch of bacon to Century Oaks, a company that specializes in nitrate-free bacon, cured using only celery juice, brine, and smoke.
The Parkers do not vaccinate preferring to prevent disease by keeping a closed herd. After the piglets are weaned, they are de-wormed, but they get no antibiotics, except on the rare occasion when a pig gets sick.
Our last stop is to visit the piglets. One has to have a breeder’s eye to appreciate the beauty of a grown pig, but almost anyone would rate piglets as one of the cutest animals on the planet. In a small shed ,Wendy shows me four copper-colored baby pigs with tiny wriggling snouts and curly tails. They look positively huggable, and I ask if I can pick one up. Their mother eyes us suspiciously. “That would NOT be a good idea,” says Wendy. “There is nothing more protective than a mother pig.”
The Parkers encourage customers to come to the farm and buy directly. “Personally I think it is more fun to shop from our freezers full of hundreds of cuts. Just call first so we can open the gate.” Heritage Farm NW pork can also be found at the Salem Saturday Market, Rafn’s Local Foods in Salem, and the Corvallis Indoor Market; home delivery of pork is available in Salem.