Contact: torpy@iptv.org

For many, the best part of working in agriculture is the satisfaction of a day well spent. The toughest part of running any operation is often selling the commodity produced and not the work that went into its creation.

However, there are those who find a niche’ where customers beat down the door for limited supply. For one family of hog producers, demand for their products found them joining others producing pork with a purpose.

John Torpy has our Cover Story. 

In the spring of 2013, in the rolling hills of Southeast, Iowa, Jason and Angela Johnson launched Lucky George Farm. It had been their dream to live on a small farm, raising and growing their own food while being good stewards to the land. 
Without realizing it, the couple stumbled upon a successful strategy to produce pork with a purpose instead of pork with a profit. What grew from their hard work has gone far beyond their wildest dreams. 
Angela Johnson, Lucky George farm, “It fit the way that we wanted to farm. Which was hands off, not intensive farming. Hands off an extensive model, the traditional model, rather than a conventional model.”

 On twenty acres, the Johnson’s carved out a multi-species plan to raise heritage breed chickens, geese, sheep, goats, cows, and pigs on pasture. 
Jason Johnson, Lucky George Farm, “I thought what if we can find the system that would honor the animal, allowed them to grow to an older age, be raised outside and in an environment that you could put many animals. And so it’s multi-species grazing here that the pigs and goats and everything runs together and it produces a product that's different than what you would find elsewhere.”

To help offset input costs, the family began selling various cuts of meat at farmers markets in Iowa and Kansas. Word spread about their product line and an urban audience took notice.  
Jason Johnson, Lucky George Farm, “…if someone walks up to our booth they're like ‘oh, you have quail eggs, chicken eggs, you have mutton’ which is an adult sheep. That's something that nobody else sells. We have goat meat and we have large black pigs so you know it's an interest there that just doesn't exist among other producers.”

They had been searching for hog breeds that would meet their dietary demands and be hearty enough to thrive outside at Lucky George Farm. The Johnson’s found all the characteristics they were looking for in the Large Black heritage breed. 
Angela Johnson, Lucky George Farm, “We bought the farm for us. We did not buy the farm to be a business./ I was totally shocked and surprised the first 6 months when we found out other people wanted our meat.”

Some of those other people showing interest in Lucky George products were part of a movement known as Cochon 555, a group that promotes Heritage Breed pork and those who produce it. Through culinary competitions staged across the country, organizers pair up top chefs with small family farms in an effort to raise awareness about the unique breeds.  
Brady Lowe, Founder, Cochon 555, “when you find it, it's small family farmers who raising it. It can't exist on an industrial level so almost every time you buy heritage breed, chew on it, you're just supporting family farming. It's a direct hit.”

Organizers for the Minneapolis semi-final Cochon 555 event began looking to pair up the Johnson Family with a top chef who wanted to work with the Large Black breed. Jorge Guzman, executive chef for Surly Brewing Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, answered the call. 
Jorge Guzman, Executive Chef, Surly Brewing, “It's a Heritage breed that you don't see very often. So even promoting the fact that you're doing a large black. Like people are like 'what's that'? Like when's the last time you heard of a large black hog? You don't. You don't hear about them that often and so that's part of what Cochon and lucky George farm. That organization is trying to promote Heritage breed Hogs and large black is one of those hogs and it's just a better product.”

Guzman believes in supporting heritage breed production to educate consumers on the differences in taste and character found in old world breeds. Guzman praised Large Black hogs for their marbled red meat and points out the fat has a higher smoke point, which produces a higher quality white lard. 
With a win at Cochon 555 in Minneapolis, Guzman, his team, and Lucky George Farm earned a seat at the big table in Snowmass, Colorado for the Grand Cochon. 
Ten teams from across the country went head to head in hopes of being recognized as having the best tasting pork in the country. Each team presented their dish to numerous judges and hundreds of guests who voted for the best bite of the day.
While the Johnson’s did not end up wearing the Cochon crown in Snowmass, Colorado, they did end up winning big with a country that has a crown. 
On Thursday, June 8, 2017 the British Pig Association awarded Lucky George Farm their own pedigree for two of their animals, making them the first American pig producers to be invited into the organization. 
 Founded 133 years ago, the association tracks and preserves the lineage of endangered breeds like Large Black Pigs to help ensure their survival.
Marcus Bates, CEO, British Pig Association: “But this is a long-term project and they obviously made a real commitment to to the long haul. Looking after these pigs is something, or any of these breeds it's it's something that has to be passed on from generation to generation.  … so you have to have the next generation of pedigree breeders to pass the animals onto.”

The Johnson’s see the new distinction as one more tool helping them continue to practice conservancy through consumption. 
Angela Johnson, Lucky George Farm, “these pigs have a life and they're going to one day be on your plate they have a life with purpose and hopefully we're raising them in a purposeful way.”

For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy