(First published in the Rocky View Weekly on April 5, 2016)
An Irricana farmstead has been steadily reconnecting Alberta’s dinner tables to the farm by building a locally sourced and sustainable operation, raising all natural, free-range pigs.
Stepping away from the corporate world to live a happier life, Chris Fasoli returned to the agricultural roots of his family and founded Bear and the Flower Farm with his wife Jessica in August 2015.
Though his family invested 35 years raising cattle, the couple gravitated towards the budding industry of free-range pigs. Fasoli said the couple hoped to become an essential link in the chain connecting the curious consumer with the story behind the meat.
“They want to know the story about where their food is coming from, how it is raised and how it is grown,” he said. “I’m a big believer in the truth behind food.”
Fasoli said Bear and the Flower Farm sources its pigs from a humanely raised breeder in the Coaldale, Alta., area and works closely to develop the genetics of a strong outdoor pig by crossing the duroc, Berkshire and landrace breeds.
The pigs are brought to the farm at “weaner” weight, which Fasoli said is about 22 kilograms.
Working with a swine nutritionist to garner the right amount of minerals, supplements and nutrients essential to maintain a healthy pig without the use of growth hormones, antibiotics or a GMO feed, Fasoli said the pigs would reach a mature weight of 112 kilograms in about four and a half months.
“We’re as natural as it can be,” Fasoli said.
According to Fasoli, Bear and the Flower Farm can have upwards of 250 pigs at different stages of development gracing the fields at any one time.
With 100 acres at his disposal in the summer, Fasoli said the pigs are separated into three 10 acres spots that shift along every couple of weeks to maintain land stewardship.
By the time the pigs have reached the end of the 100 acres, Fasoli said the first portion of land will have rejuvenated back.
“Pig manure is the most nutritious, lush fertilizer you can put out there,” he said.
With the rise of factory farms producing massive volumes of food, Fasoli said the way food is grown has vastly changed in the past half century.
Though he said he agrees there is a need for “nose to concrete” operations to meet the food demand of Earth’s growing population, he said he has been working hard to bring a different kind of product to market.
The freedom enjoyed by an outdoor environment adds to the overall quality of the meat, he said, creating a natural marbling and muscle cover in the pig as it runs, grazes and roots around.
Fasoli said that difference really comes out in the taste and smell of a free-range pork chop to a barn raised one.
“You’ll smell the barn inside that barn pig,” Fasoli said. “They don’t see the light of day and that’s not a natural environment.”
Once the pigs have reached a mature weight, they are transported to Pure Country Meats in Strathmore where they are butchered and packaged into a product ready to sell.
This journey for the Fasolis, which began as a path to a simpler and happier life, has not been without its ups and downs and sleepless nights from the immense learning curve associated with raising free-range pigs.
When he opens the gates each day, the pigs run to him. He said he enjoys their company and likes to think they enjoy his. He added he drinks his morning coffee surrounded by them as they curiously nip and gnaw at his pant legs and he even spends some evenings lying with them in the hay.
Fasoli said the first slaughter was hard for Jessica and him, but at the end of the day his job is to ensure they have what every animal, be it pigs, dogs or humans, need – food, shelter, water and love.
“We’re all human and you get attached to things,” he said. “I just know they live a much better six months of life than they would have in a barn.”
To learn more about Bear and the Flower Farm products and where to find them, visit bearandtheflower.com