HIGH QUALITY PASTURED PORK FOR THE PUGET SOUND
By Caitlin Singer
With 13 years of combined farming experience, Katie Pencke and Matthew McDermott are practiced and accomplished farmers. From their roots in educational agriculture, they’re currently transitioning into providing local, organically-managed, pasture-raised pork.
The term “alluvial” describes the fan-shaped deposits of soil at the base of topographical features. Whatcom County is rich with alluvial soil because of our proximity to the North Cascades Mountains. This soil is commonly very nutritionally rich and ideal for growing crops… and pigs!
Previous experience in pastured pork production gave them a taste for the craft. They enjoy working with pigs because they are intelligent, easy to work with, and have a tasty end product. They like the idea of being able to raise them from start to finish in the span of one season and with a smaller footprint than cows, all while contributing a much needed product for their community – local, pasture-raised pork.
After an initial season spent observing and experimenting, Matthew and Katie put the pedal to metal. In 2016, Alluvial Farms was officially born with the mission of connecting eaters to their pork experience. They raise hogs on two sites in Everson, their home and Circle F Farms on Mount Baker Highway. They partner with Myrle Foster of Circle F Farms, who was recently awarded Community Food Co-Op’s 2017 Mentor Farmer Award after being nominated by Matthew and Katie for his mentorship and support.
They are always experimenting to better their practices and improve relationships in the community and within their own family unit. When asked his inspiration for farming, Matthew focused on family and community, “Katie and I love working together on this project. It is great to collaborate on something that includes our son Ramone. We are also inspired by the community of creative, talented, and hardworking Whatcom County farmers and farm workers who are striving for a just and sustainable local food system. “
Recently they partnered with Cloud Mountain Farm Center to clean the orchard floor of fallen fruit. This benefits the orchard by reducing pest and disease pressure, meanwhile the hogs get to pig out on delicious apples. During their 2017 season they raised 50 pigs on organically managed pastures, an Organic local field pea, barley, and wheat ration and a weekly treat of 100 gallons of Twin Brook Dairy’s jersey cream milk. Alluvial Farms experimented with growing their own barley in 2017 and will pursue larger scale grain and pig forage production in 2018 and beyond. With their experience, knowledge, and careful planning, Matthew and Katie are hog-raising experts right off the bat. They ensure consistent, fresh pasture through rotational grazing practices to keep those hogs – and soil critters – happy. After rotation to a new patch of pasture, they leave behind a well-tilled and nutrient dense plot of land, ripe for soil health and raising crops. After smoothing out these wallows with a tractor, disk and plow, they plant cover crop and forage crops for the next batch of pigs.
With responsibly-sourced feed – some grown onsite – and constant access to fresh air, water, food, and space, the hogs are treated humanely and respectfully. Half acre rotational paddocks ensure enough space for rooting, running, and socializing to certify happy hogs. Animal Welfare Approved handling and end of life practices are made easy with Circle F Farm’s support, farm infrastructure, and connections with local mobile processing units. On-farm slaughter reduces animal stress and eases the process.
The timeline for the 2018 season looks similar to previous seasons: February sees the first batch of feeder pigs brought to the farm from Smith Falls Farm, Alluvial’s breeder in Aldergrove, Canada. By May they are big enough for whole hog roasting for your Memorial Day luau, and in July they are considered full-sized and ready for first harvest in time for your 4th of July barbeque. Early deposits ensure free delivery to Bellingham and Seattle. Next season brings a scaling up to 75-80 hogs, an increase of on-farm grain production, and hopefully acquiring their own piece of property to create a home and viable farm business.
When they’re not raising hogs, Katie works as a Resource Specialist with the Whatcom Conservation District providing free and confidential farm planning services, specializing in livestock production. Matthew is the Food Production Manager at Cloud Mountain Farm Center where he manages five acres of organic vegetables, six acres of tree and vine fruit, a ten acre farm incubator, and a wily squad of interns.
They are currently wrapping up the second Alluvial pork season and finalizing the last of the meat slinging to enjoy a hogless holiday, in preparation for a February arrival of 2018’s first crew. While you eagerly await next season, check out the recipe blog on the website. You can find them in person, along with farmer-in-training Ramone, at the Bellingham Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. You can visit www.alluvialfarms.com to order products including butchered or intact whole and half pork shares, whole pigs for roasting, butchering workshops, beef shares provided by Circle F Farms, and schwag to support your favorite hog farmers. You can also arrange a family friendly visit to share in the experience and meet your hog!