Featured Local Farmers:
Caleb Johnson, Jack Ward, and
Caleb Johnson is a recent N.C. State graduate in Agricultural Business Management, but he joins his father Anthony Johnson — who has 15 years of previous experience in pasture-raised pork — in tending some 50 sows on their farm near Garland in Sampson County.
Caleb grew up on the 600-acre farm, where he, his Dad and his mother Marry Anne oversee the raising of corn, soybeans, wheat, some beef cattle and 65 acres of Blueberries.
The Johnson's most recent venture in raising pigs on the ground in keeping Animal Welfare Approved standards is one year old, and the family likes being able to get a stamp of approval from someone not directly associated with the farm. "We get the benefit of having a third party verify our practices, which are designed for the overall welfare of the pigs, and The Pit's patrons gets the advantage of knowing that the AWA label means what it says," explains Caleb. "There's an annual audit, and it covers everything from birth of piglets to the processing of the animals for consumption," he adds.
The basic premise of all the AWA standards is that animals must be able to behave naturally and be in a state of physical and psychological well-being. Animal Welfare Approved has the most rigorous standards for farm animal welfare currently in use by any United States organization
Caleb is also an enthusiastic deer hunter and enjoys experimenting with producing delectable venison jerky.
Jack Ward's most recent venture in pasture-raised pork is only a year and a half old, but he has deep background in the practice.
"I was raised up tending to pigs on the ground,” he declares. "My late father Jimmy raised pigs that way back when most everybody was doing it, and I know he would be tickled that we're back to doing it that way on this farm, and especially that we're following the AWA standards."
Jack's father, grandfather and great-grandfather all farmed the family land near Seven Springs in Wayne County, and Ward's son Daniel now represents the fifth generation on the farm. The operation, which presently encompasses approximately 400 acres, is devoted to raising corn, wheat, soybeans, tobacco and beef cattle, in addition to the care of around 25 sows and their litters.
Given only to family farms, the Animal Welfare Approved label verifies that participating farms are putting each individual animal’s comfort and well-being first. The only free, third-party animal welfare certification program, AWA offers both technical advice and marketing support. The program works to revitalize a culture of independent family farms, on which a humane ethic can be passed on to future generations.
"What we’re doing is really satisfying on a lot of levels," reflects Ward. "It addresses the welfare of the pigs, it's healthier for them and it has to be healthier for the consumer, as well."
Meet Adam Grady, the highly-respected young Duplin County farmer who supplies much of The Pit's pasture-raised pork.
Adam, his wife Brandy and his infant son Kaden live outside Kenansville, where Adam also raises beef cattle, cotton, corn, soybeans and hay on nearly 1,000 acres.
On Adam's family farm, pigs are raised outdoors, without the use of antibiotics, growth promotants or animal byproducts, and his practices are audited and certified by the Animal Welfare Approved program. The pigs graze on pasture, breathe fresh air and feel sunshine on their backs. Piglets stay with their mother for a minimum of six weeks before being weaned. As they grow, the animals have lots of space for exercise and engaging in natural behaviors: roaming, rooting, playing and wallowing. During inclement weather, the pigs shelter in huts, with plenty of natural bedding material.
"The pigs are just so much more content than they are in the typical confinement-type operation, where they don't have room to even move around, much less act normally," says Adam. "Out here, they can run around and be pigs."
Adam is one of a relatively small but growing number of farmers who are electing to raise animals within the most stringent humane animal welfare standards. There is a growing demand for pastured pork, and the Animal Welfare Approved seal not only gives consumers a way to identify products from humane farming systems but also gives producers a way to show customers how they farm &mdash with third party verification of their high-welfare practices.
"Our pasture-raised pig operation also helps us tremendously in terms of diversification," says Adam. "It gives me some assurance that when my son Kaden is old enough, he'll have more options for being able to stay on the farmstead if he so chooses and pursue a way of life that has been wonderful for our family."