Two Florida Farmers Opt Out of Animal Rights Battles
|Matt Thomas' little pigs range freely.|
After the amendment passed, the only two large pig farms in Florida went out of business, at least in part because of plummeting pork prices. And no new large-scale pig farms have set up in Florida. But with the recent emphasis on the local and sustainable and on humane, free-range methods of animal husbandry, smaller operators in Florida are making a go of farming.
The Humane Society's Paul Shapiro contends that the Florida amendment may have "helped provide an environment in which family farms can flourish."
Take Matt Thomas, who runs Little Pig Farm in Homosassa, Florida. He says he started the farm five years ago because he and his wife "wanted to know where our food came from."
Thomas was a city boy from Tampa with no farming background. But he started raising Berkshire pigs, a black heritage breed with dark, heavily marbled meat, beloved of chefs for its high-quality flavor. The pigs are raised naturally, without hormones or antibiotics.
|Sows go crateless now.|
The sows are treated humanely and range freely during gestation. "We used to keep our pigs in 16-by-16-foot pens," he says, "but honestly it was more trouble than just letting them run free. You'd have to come home from work and muck out the pens. This way we're all happier."
|David and Fran Strawn raise cattle humanely.|
Another rancher who has switched from commodity farming to humane methods is David Strawn, whose family owns the 700-acre Deep Creek Ranch in De Leon Springs. Strawn says they're happier too now that they've turned to free-range and grass-fed ranching.
The Strawn family has been cattle ranchers since 1883: The remnants of the original slaughterhouse still stand on their property. Until five years ago, they were commodity ranchers.
|Deep Creek lambs are raised in pasture.|
Deep Creek is already so successful that Strawn says the USDA recently alerted the Strawns to an operation selling bogus Deep Creek beef. "They found somebody was buying commodity beef in the supermarket and slapping a Deep Creek label on it," Strawn says. Then they were peddling it around at farmer's markets. We heard about it and we said, here's a sign that we've finally really made it big. Somebody is counterfeiting us!"
Thomas and the Strawns have never felt any pressure from the Humane Society. "They love farms like us!" Thomas says. These farms prove it's possible to raise animals using humane husbandry. But here's the kicker: Smaller farms like Deep Creek and Little Pig are never going to feed a mass market.
As Humane Society-backed legislation puts pressure on farmers to use more expensive methods, meat may become more precious, a luxury for the kind of people who dine at Café Boulud or who can pay $325 for half a free-range Berkshire pig. Some commodity farmers may be able to weather the changes. Others who can't stand the heat, like the Basford family in Florida, may have to get out of the business.