After Hog Market Falls Out, Couple Finds Opportunity and Profit Raising Heritage Pork Sustainably
August 6, 2012 | Missy Smith
For Paul and Ember Crivellaro, of Hamburg, Pa.’s Country Time Farm, raising heritage pigs came as somewhat of a necessity, but has developed into a deep respect for people’s health and the animals themselves. In the early 1980s, the couple began raising pigs to sell to farmers. Their business held steady for a while until the hog market fell out in 1996. “We were giving pigs away at 15 cents a pound,” reflects Paul Crivellaro.
So, he began researching natural and organic products, and realized that there was a good amount of opportunity within these specialized markets. He reached out to a few people at Penn State who pointed him in the direction of Philadelphia. There, the couple connected with someone who worked on getting local farmers linked up with food marketing students at St. Joe’s University. And, in turn, the students connected the Crivellaros with local restaurants in Philadelphia.
Since then, Country Time Farm has supplied Philadelphia restaurants with humanely raised pork, free of antibiotics; growth hormones; and nitrites, nitrates, MSG and other preservatives. Not only does the farm use natural, humanely, pasture-raised meat, but they also use all organic seasoning and spices to create their sausages. Some of the restaurants they work with will order fresh cuts and use them to make salami.
The Crivellaros opted to raise Large Black Hogs and Gloucestershire Old Spots. “The packing houses didn’t want them,” he says. “But, we find their temperament to be docile compared to conventional hogs of today.” In addition, these heritage breeds naturally have a higher fat content, making the meat more flavorful.
Country Time Farm’s pork products include nitrate-free bacon, nitrate-free hot dogs, four types of sausages, fresh and smoked hams, shoulders, pork chops, tenderloins, roasts, pork roll, pancetta, ribs and smoked sausage. “We utilize the whole hog,” Crivellaro says.
On the weekends, they also sell their pork products at the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market in Phoenixville, Pa. Their most popular cuts of meat at market include sausages, pork chops, pork roll and hot dogs. “But, bacon is number one,” Crivellaro says. They also sell pulled pork sandwiches, as well as one of their claims to fame: their homemade Mango Tango sauce. “When we started at farmers’ markets 15 years ago, we sold pulled pork sandwiches, and I developed a mango sauce for them,” he explained. “People started asking for the recipe. So, instead of giving it out, I wanted to see if we could get the sauce bottled. Now, we sell it in the bottle at market.”
Raising hogs sustainably has become a no-brainer for Country Time Farm, which pastures heritage pigs and never uses GMO grain or animal byproducts. “They are fed a vegetarian diet of corn, soybean and minerals. They also get a lot of fresh air and sunshine,” Crivellaro explains. “It’s better for the animals. They are not totally confined, and [as a result], are healthier animals.” The Crivellaro’s hogs are free to roam throughout their 55-acre farm and barn, making for happier pigs, and healthier cuts of meat.
One challenge of following a natural business model is reflected in how much Country Time Farm spends on healthy grain to feed their pigs, especially during the drought they have had to work with this summer. “Two weeks ago, corn was $7 a bushel, today it is $9,” Crivellaro explains. “A lot of farms are actually substituting with cookie meal and candy byproducts. They are using anything they can to offset the cost of production.”
But, he finds this unnecessary and unhealthy in raising quality meat. And, he believes larger hog farmers are as capable as Country Time Farm of employing sustainable methods. “It’s being done all over Europe and in the Midwest,” Crivellaro says.
He also believes in putting a face to their product. So, he personally delivers all pork products directly to the restaurants that they supply. “People want to buy fresh and local, and they want to support local farms,” he says. And, their heritage pork farm has grown significantly, not only because of the marketing efforts on their Website, but simply due to word of mouth. “We have a lot of people who enjoy our products. And, we have actually run into a few vegetarians, who we have converted to our pork,” he laughs.