Our quest for the best tasting, humanely raised meat that is USDA stamped (required by all food service outlets) led us to Oliver Woolley of Peads and Barnetts in Valley Center. Pictured above here with our chef Matt, Oliver is a third generation pig farmer who sells whole pigs to restaurants as well as traditional and unconventional pork cuts, like pork collar, at Wednesday’s Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.
Years back, Oliver had left his family farm to pursue finance and then cooking school, but he was drawn back when he realized how instrumental raising livestock is to cooking well, that when you take the time to raise livestock thoughtfully, you are rewarded by spectacular flavor. This strategy seems obvious, but in an age dominated by big industrial farming, raising pork for flavor rather than volume is unusual here in the US. Oliver now dedicates himself to counterbalancing that formula.
Peads and Barnetts has about 100-120 pigs at a given time, and they are all separated by age in their own pasture areas. Oliver now raises English Berkshire pigs exclusively since he found they have the best potential for marbling and a high tolerance for California sun. Once he decided on this breed, he does not allow any other breeds on his ranch in order to prevent disease. Illness can spread quickly for pasture-raised pigs that are not fed a steady diet of preemptive antibiotics (as is protocol in big industrial farming), so visitors like us, who visit lots of farms, are instructed to thoroughly wash and sanitize our shoes to avoid any kind of transference of threatening bacteria or viruses. With vigilant precautions such as this, plenty of room to roam, and abundant nutrition, Peads and Barnetts has created a healthy, antibiotic-free ranch.
Looks like these pigs are partying hard with all that white powder, huh? It’s actually a mix of diatomaceous earth, red clay, barley, seaweed, and red wheat which constitutes the feed for these Berkshires. The clay naturally fends off worms and parasites, as well as promotes heart health and stronger joints. This farm is 25 acres, but Oliver only uses 5 acres at a time where he plants mixed grasses and seeds of barley as you see in the green patch up there. The pigs burrow through it, tearing it out of the ground and voarciously consume it, thereby turning the ground back into dirt again as you see in the photo above. This dirt was grass just 6 months ago!
Pigs here also forage for nuts from the oak trees. This partially foraged diet renders their fat spreadable like butter, and supremely rich. Peads and Barnetts remarkably delectable pork chops are available at SMFM and are a great way to understand the decadence of texture and flavor of livestock raised without corn or soy as they universely are in big industrial farming.
With plenty of room, these pigs like to run! I’ve never seen pigs move so much or so fast! Oliver says it is typical of this breed and he feels that it is why their meat is so tender. He reasons that with all of this exerted energy, their blood is always pulsating through their bodies which helps nourish the extensive and prized marbling found in his pork.
At Peads and Barnetts, males are castrated when they are a few days old to avoid “boar taint” which is a really strong and unappealing flavor. Oliver keeps a couple males with the most defined muscles for breeding which is done naturally rather than through insimination like on industrial farms. The best girls to keep for breeding have the most nipples and can produce up to 14 babies, and the best males for breeding are those with lots of muscle definition which is indicative of a strong and healthy hog. Those pigs not used for breeding are taken to slaughter at 9-10 months when they reach 250-275 pounds.
I have to mention that these pigs were aggressive! I’m accustomed to pigs being quite social and affectionate as you see here, but Oliver explained that this breed is known for being “a pain in the ass.” I left this farm with a collection of little bruises from getting bit all over as I struggled to get close-ups of these big heaps of sharp teeth. Conversely, on big factory farms, piglets’ teeth are clipped with pliers and their tails are docked strategically to intentionally cause lifelong pain so that the pigs do not submerge into a perilous state of depression from being unreasonably crammed together and stressed out. This practice of mutilation is not necessary when pigs are outdoors and have plenty of space to move and roll around, as they do at Peads and Barnetts.
The great news is that we all have the power to make change in meat production by how we choose to eat. We all can be the change! If you eat meat, supporting farms like Peads and Barnetts is a statement of how you reject the practices of big factory farming, and how you demand change in our country’s broken food system. Yes, it’s more expensive to eat this way, and humanely raised, sustainable pork is not readily accessible to most consumers. Let’s then all then work to eat less meat.
In addition to pigs, Oliver sells grapefruit and the most charming drought tolerant flora, all from the protea family. Their bushes in person seem lifelike, as if they might very well break out dancing or at least invite you for a cup of tea, they are so charming! Native to Africa and Australia, they do really well here in Southern California, “especially if you just ignore them,” says Oliver. The land his father lives on came with many mature bushes and they are easy to propagate so selling these flora has become a very successful, if accidental, side business. Oliver regularly sells out at SMFM as well as the downtown flower market.
Grapefruit, juicy pork, and drought-tolerant local flowers are the backbone of this absorbing farm. There are several other food service friends besides us who support Peads and Barnetts, look out for them! Oliver has attempted to sell at Whole Foods, to be more readily available to the masses but it isn’t sustainable for his business to be the middleman. Sometimes we have to work harder, we have to compromise with convenience to be a part of an important movement. Let’s all be the change rather than just talk about it. Know your farmer, know your food.
Photos: Yolk & Flour