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My Field Trip to P&F Farms in West Texas

PigsThe best part of my job with Whole Foods Market®’s Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP) is the opportunity to build relationship with local farmers, ranchers and food artisans around the country. Every day, I’m inspired by what this small but tenacious group is doing for their communities, the environment and for our food system.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve worked with Robert Fisk, owner of P&F Farms in west Texas. After returning from deployments in the Army Reserves, Robert decided that he wanted to raise pigs full time. To show his four young boys the value of raising animals with dignity and respect, he and his wife built their farm so the pigs could be raised outdoors with plenty of room to act like pigs.

Their vision has earned their farm a Global Animal Partnership rating of Step 3. Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step™Animal Welfare Rating program outlines specific husbandry and management practices that promote farm animal welfare. At Step 3, Robert’s pigs have outdoor access and meet approximately 100 species-specific standards.

Now, Robert is using funds from LPLP to build feed storage, two new barns, pasture housing and fencing. The goal of this project is to assist him in upgrading to a Step 4 – pastured centered – a prestigious honor for any meat producer. Currently, P&F Farms is Whole Foods Market’s only Texas-based pork producer with a Global Animal Partnership rating. He’s a small producer and currently is only selling his product in our flagship store in Austin. However, his project will hopefully help him expand to more markets.

I got the chance to visit him, tour his farm, see the new project and meet his family.

I landed in Lubbock during a dust storm and drove to Matador, a tiny town with a population of a little over 600 people. Many of the mesquite trees lining the gravel road to the ranch were blackened due to a disastrous wildfire in 2011. Robert lost 75 pigs during the fire and had to replant a huge portion of his land. With the ongoing drought, this summer is not much better — locals call the huge dust storms that kick up and cover the sky “West Texas Rain.”

P & F FarmP&F Farm was filled with 30 free-range cows and donkeys, a few rescued horses and 200 pigs and piglets that were only too curious to come up and snuffle me on the legs. Robert’s three youngest boys ran ahead of us, rattling off the names of all the pigs, which ones they liked the most and which was the best mama.

The way Robert chooses to raise his pigs remains uncommon in the pork industry. Raising pigs according to Global Animal Partnership’s standards takes more time, energy and money. I ask him, is it really worth it? A 24/7 job, with no control over production variables like the weather? Robert tells me that raising pigs is his meditation; he wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t absolutely love and believe in it. Through the years, he’s worked up to four jobs at one time in order to keep the farm. Imagine waking up and feeling the same way!

I am so lucky that my job connects me to such passionate partners who are committed to their work and their mission. Through the Local Producer Loan Program and with your purchasing power, we support these producers and help their businesses grow.

Do you have a favorite local producer near you that’s passionate about their product? Tell me about them in the comments below.

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Deborah Lonsdorf says …

I love your description of this wonderful man and his family and his "meditation" farm. The photo of the pig is joyful and beautiful. I salute Whole Foods for helping farmers like this to market. We need more of them to fill the world with humanely raised food and the connection to the earth it provides.

piglover says …

I could not visit this farm knowing the fate of the pig. or even chiat. cken farm. i saw babe, and its just like that except they do know they are not giong to pig heaven. animal have instincts too.. eggs are ok i cant say much i raise chicken who lay eggs but i just cant get to kill them again eat meat

La Vaughn Standridge says …

Thank you Mr. Fisk for doing the right thing by raising pigs humanely. THANK YOU Whole Foods for SUPPORTING HUMANE ANIMAL suppliers. Although I am vegan, my family is not. I buy only at WF, because of your concerns for humane animal treatment. I look forward to having the same standards of care apply to dairy and egg suppliers, as are now applied to meat.

Dana Baxter says …

I don't have a story to share, but rather a comment. I'm so grateful Wholefoods investigates and rewards farmers who practice dignity, care, and compassion to their animals that sustain life for us, humans. If ever I'm in west Texas, I'll be sure to visit P&F Farms to offer my gratitude and admiration for their visionary practices.

Mary says …

Kudos to Mr. Fisk and his family! This is such good news. In our world, there's too much bad that this is a great ray of sunlight. Not only is Mr. Fisk doing good for the food industry, he's also showing his sons what can be done in terms of a great job. I wish him every success - so he'll only have to work one job.

ginny murray says …

Thank you so very much for your approach to be kind to all animals and allow them to enjoy freedom until there used for food. God Bless your and your family. Keep doing what you do, sharing love to others, animals and people.

Susan Lisowski says …

I applaud this farmer for his fair treatment of these beautiful animals that are raised for our consumption. More farmers should be following his lead! This is why I shop at Whole Foods because of their concern for providing us with food produced in the most morally ethical manner. Thanks Whole Foods!

RJ says …

Wonderful article! It is encouraging to know that Robert used his head to follow his heart. A remarkable man with a vision!

Sue says …

Although I'm a meat-eater, I've always thought these animals should at least have a good life before going to slaughter. I always buy free-roaming eggs and chicken and beef whenever I see it. Yes, it costs more, but I simply don't eat as much meat as I used to. I hate factory farming!

Shawna Alapai says …

Thank you for this article! Knowing the level of care, consciousness, love and respect that these pigs receive makes my heart happy. I choose to buy all my food ONLY fron Whole Foods and this article has allowed me to feel better about purchasing pork as well.

Carmela Moseley says …

Wonderful story of a ' Real' working farm. The kind of farm I remember when I was a kid in England and spent my summer holidays from school on my cousins dairy farm in Somerset U.K. a dairy, pig, peat -land and potato farm where all the farm animals had a natural outdoor life and were happy and the animals ate grass all day, the pigs all happy in their natural environment,and such intelligent animals,all animals were put in barns for warmth and shelter in severe winter weather. It was indeed such an education for me for respect of nature and life, to walk amongst the dairy cows and have them come to me when I called them by name all animals were treated with respect .I loved it and will never forget it as long as I live. All kids should spend summer vacation time on ' real working farms ' farms ( instead of boot-camps) ! they have no idea what real farming is today. It was a sad,sad, day when it came time for any animal to go off to the slaughterhouse ! Most of these same practices still exist today at 'real farms' in U.K.hard work yes,but satisfying and dedicated work that's carried on from one generation to the next. Small sustainable farms I suppose we would call them today, with respect for animals life and natural organic everything ! I am sure alot of these farms I am taling about supply 'Wholefoods U.K.' with local natural produce as well not just meat. ( I am almost vegetarian today, just because I love animals and cannot bear to eat them ! ) and love Paul McCartney and his ' If slaughter houses had glass walls ' video ! Lets face it however your animal was home-grown do they really all end up in these terrible in-humane slaughter houses that put these animals through absolute terror before final death, turns my stomach just to think of it ! I suppose Robert Fisk has seen some of these horrific places ! An organic and Wholefoods shopper. Thank You.

louise rosner says …

i am very happy to see this aricle after hearing and seeing what they are doing in other states, Robert Fisk is doing the right thing.i hope more farms follow in raising animals with recpect.