The 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 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.