Thursday, June 4, 2009

How and where to buy local pork near Tampa Bay

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2009 at 4:26 PM

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(This piece came from our CL Sarasota, as part of it's Summer of Pig coverage.)

Local vegetables and fruits are commonplace, if you know where to look, but finding local meat is a distinct challenge. Blame the USDA.

Hogs meant for commercial meat sales usually have to go through the mega-slaughterhouses regulated by the USDA, whether it's a couple pigs from a local farm or a thousand pigs from a corporate production facility. That makes it much harder for the little guys, since those slaughterhouses charge a premium for the smaller jobs of the family farm.

There is a loophole, however. Hogs meant for personal consumption - by the owners, theoretically - can be slaughtered at smaller, local slaughterhouses. Over the past few years, farms have started offering entire hogs for sale before they're mature, then the farm finishes raising the hog for you. If you're not in the market for that much meat, they'll even match you up with other interested folks so you can buy a quarter or half of a pig.

Don't worry, you won't have to break down the carcass yourself; it will come to you butchered and wrapped to order. All you have to do is buy a freezer big enough to store your meat.

Why go the trouble and extra expense of buying local?

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Industrially-farmed pigs are weaned from their mother within 2-3 weeks, kept in tight confines and often treated with drugs to ensure good health. Local pork is usually naturally-raised, which means lots of space for piggy behavior, the ability to choose from varied feed, and are able to wean more slowly from their mothers. Even better, this style of pork is less lean than supermarket stuff, which means it tastes a hell of a lot better.

Not to mention all the usual benefits of buying local, like keeping money in the hands of the farmers, reducing petroleum waste from production and transportation, and buying meat that's actually fresh. Plus, if you ask nicely, you can go visit your own hog in the flesh.

Below are two semi-local farms that serve up incredible, local pork, two different ways. There are many more options out there than just these two, so if you have a favorite drop it into the comments.

Palmetto Creek Farms

PO Box 607, Avon Park, 863-449-0006

Originally started as a 4-H project, Palmetto Creek Farms has turned into an incredible producer of pork out east of Sarasota County. Owner Jim Woods tested 10 different breeds of pig over several years before settling on a stock of Hereford hogs. He sacrificed speed of growth and number of offspring for incredible flavor and intramuscular fat that hasn't been bred out of the pig like those at corporate farms.

Although Palmetto Creek sells largely to the restaurant trade, they'll be happy to ship you some of their fabulous meat, or you can drive out and pick it up yourself.

My Mother's Garden

3819 Country Road 579 South, Wimauma, 813-956-1643

My Mother's Garden is a full service stop for any dedicated locavore, from organically produced vegetables and fruit to hormone-free, grass-fed beef to cultivated shiitake mushrooms. The farm's Berkshire and Tamworth hogs get the same all-natural approach as the beef, along with an extensive grazing area that results in classic, acorn-fed pork (depending on the season).

My Mother's Garden sells pigs by the half and whole.

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