As the 2018 Tour de Pork draws to a close, it seems only fitting to pay tribute to the NC Natural Hog Growers Association (NCNHGA), our source for local, pasture-raised pork. When we launched Firsthand Foods we had a choice to make. Build and manage our own network of pasture-raised hog producers (something we’ve done for our beef and lamb supply) or make a commitment and source exclusively from the NCNHGA? We chose the latter and have never looked back. We are proud of the work we have done together to continuously expand the availability of delicious, sustainably raised pork.
The NCNHGA was established in 2007 to create a producer-co-op that could meet the demand from new markets for ethically-raised pork produced outdoors on pasture without antibiotics. Rather than get into the business of selling meat, Association members realized their niche should be selling hogs to wholesale buyers. Bucking the trend in eastern North Carolina, a region dominated by industrial-scale confinement hog operations, they began working together to develop the organization, implement shared pasture-raised, Animal Welfare Approved production standards, create a quality control and improvement program, and manage internal and external communications and relationships.
As one of the Association’s buyers for the past eight years, we have witnessed their growth and maturity as an organization. And we’ve done our best as a company to support them in their aim towards continuous improvement. Many of the members of the Association raise their own grains, predominantly corn and soy, as feed for their hogs. A few years ago, they decided to grow only non-GMO grains. To support this transition, we helped them raise the funds (thank you, RAFI USA) necessary to purchase a second soybean crusher, which enables separation of the meal (a feed source) from the oil (a by-product). Today, the Association is one of the nation’s only sources for pasture-raised, Animal Welfare Approved, non-GMO hogs.
We’ve raised funds to support educational opportunities for producers to receive carcass quality feedback — information they need to make good decisions about breeding stock and nutritional programs. And we’ve developed a weekly feedback program that allows each producer who sells to us to learn within days of delivery how they perform across key meat quality parameters, including loin eye size, color and marbling. It’s gratifying to watch as these investments translate into continuous meat quality improvement.
The Association’s achievements have been hard-won, requiring tremendous dedication, patience and loyalty. Bringing together a diverse group of producers to work together cooperatively is a challenge and their survival early on is owed in large part to the perseverance of founder Jeremiah Jones, who continues today as their President. Recently, new producers have stepped up into leadership roles to strengthen their organizational capacity. We’re excited about the future of our partnership and the opportunities that lie ahead for producing, marketing and distributing high-quality, non-GMO, pasture-raised pork.