On Sunday I drove up to Myrtle, Missouri to spend the day at Newman Farm for their annual farm to fork spring dinner. The short version was that it was a chance to spend time with the people that produce some of the best pork in the world (not an exaggeration). Mark, Rita, and Chris Newman showed us around the farm while explaining just what they do and why they do it. They set us up with a great butchering demonstration, and, oh yeah, they also fed us really well!
This series will be broken up into about 3 parts, so that it will actually be readable.
Part 1 – The Road Less Traveled
I hit the road out of Memphis around 7:30, well after my planned departure time. Fortunately, I made good time through the winding roads of Arkansas on my way to the farm. I pulled into Newman Farm around 10am, checked in, and started chatting with a few folks from Memphis and a group that had come down from Springfield, MO. There was a pretty large contingent of people from Memphis that have gotten to know the Newmans on Saturdays at the Memphis Farmers Market.
I heard a lot of “I don’t eat any other pork than Newman pork.” The cool story about the folks from Springfield was that they had recently been in Branson, MO and eaten at Table 22. One of them had a Newman pork chop, loved it, and after a little research, found out about the event and came down with his friends. Awesome.
Next thing we know, Mark Newman rounds up all the eaters, farmers, bloggers, and friends that came down, offers us some drinks and takes us out across the farm to see how it is done. At Newman, they do things a little differently (ok, a lot differently) than most pig farms. First thing you might notice is that the pigs aren’t pink. Or, you might notice that everything is done outdoors. Or, maybe you’ll wonder what all the grass and timber is for. This ain’t your uncle’s commodity pig farm.
“Smaller and Better”
Everything is done the way it is, so that the quality of the meat is the best it can possibly be. Starting with the breed, the Newmans raise the a heritage Berkshire breed. Rita told me that in the 60s, these pigs fell out of favor because they were “fat and dumpy.” Fortunately, because of little interest in the breed from the commodity pig breeders, they were not subject to the same cross-breeding that other pigs did. They were never “leaned.”
The Berkshire breed is extremely popular right now, because of the meat quality and the fat. As Rita said, “fat is back.” These pigs create a great layer of fat that leads to excellent flavor and a lot of potential for creativity for those that cook the end product. In addition to the excellent breeding, the Newmans raise their pigs differently than a lot of other operations. Basically, they spend more time and money on each pig that is the standard.
Crazy idea, huh? More time, care, and effort equals a better end product…
Here’s Mark Newman with a 2 day old pig, explaining how they are able to raise them outside in weather conditions that range from below 0 to over 100 degrees. Hint – that hut behind him is insulated the same way a house is, and it effectively creates a cool place for the animals in the summer and a warm place in the winter. This idea came when Mark saw these huts on a farm in England, and he spent a week with them to learn about how they were raising pigs outdoors.
A lot about the operation sets Newman Farm apart from other pig farms, but here are a couple of facts that stood out to me.
- That little pig will be raised for about 8 months on the farm, as opposed to an industry-standard growth cycle of 5.5 months.
- That pig will be fed about 4 pounds of feed for every 1 pound of weight gain, as opposed to the 2.2/1 ration in commodity farming.
- That pig will be encouraged to run and exercise, which is why Newman pork is redder than most pork. Oxygen actually goes to the muscles that the pigs use, which creates a better quality meat.
Here’s a mom with some youngsters that didn’t want to get their picture taken.
The pigs are set up in different fields appropriate to their age. Most are in fields that are made up of half grass and half timber, which equates to a very natural landscape to the animals and encourages exercise. It is a really cool set up. Everything they do is about meat quality. Mark Newman explained a number of times that he is really going against the grain when he says he wants a farm that is smaller and better. You can’t create the same quality for the end customers if you are focusing so much on quantity.
In addition to grass and timber, each field has a lake and huts for the pigs, so that they can regulate temperature and enjoy themselves on the land. They really have an awesome set up out there!
Since it was pretty warm out, most of the pigs stuck to the shade. Here’s the best shot I got of one of the moms out there. I saw this when I was leaving late that night, but the pigs are extremely active in the early morning and later evening when the sun goes down. Otherwise, they are like us and try to avoid the heat!
In the next post, I’ll breakdown the butchering demonstration, explain how Newman Farms pork has taken the culinary world by storm, pass on the story of how they came to Memphis, and then I’ll post one more big post about the meal that we had for dinner.
I highly recommend stopping by the Newman Farm booth on Saturday at the Farmer’s Market and taking a few minutes to chat with them. Also, pick up some meat from them then go home and taste the difference. There is no comparison. See you there!
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