Your approach to mistakes defines your success

One of the first things I wondered about the Farmer when I met him is why he was even reading my blog.

He told me, “I’m an entrepreneur.”

I was hooked. I had no idea what he was talking about. But I could see that I was going to learn a lot from him, and nothing gets me going like a steep learning curve.

That was five years ago. Today, I read all the farming magazines that come to the house, I sit in on meetings with the seed salesman and the accountant who specializes in farms. The Farmer has a rule that I can listen but I have to wait until the end for questions, because people in the farm community are too nice to tell me when I’m asking too many. “But you are,” he tells me. “Just trust me that you are.”

The more knowledge I have about farming the more I scream about how he treats the animals. Family farms are generally horrendous for animals. Not because the farmers have no ethics but because ethics are contextual, and like every other profession, farmers just do what other farmers do. For example, corn is like crack to pigs. It’s not healthy for them but you can move pigs around by feeding them corn like you feed kids candy.

So I am not nearly as offended with the idea that pigs are fed candy as I am with the idea that pigs are confined. They have the IQ of a three-year-0ld kid. They should not be confined to a tiny space. And definitely farrowing crates are out-of-control inhumane.

I could go on and on but I also understand the economics of farming. If you don’t know 99% of pork in the US comes from a farrowing crate operation then you have no idea that you should be paying ten times the amount for the pork you eat. And maybe you wouldn’t. So the economics of farming is a mess, and someone needs to take some big risks.

This is where Matthew comes in. I’m going to call him Matthew now. Because he’s amazing and this is a post about how amazing he is and I don’t want him to be a character on my blog anymore.

Matthew is a one-man pork revolution with a Jewish wife who won’t let pork in the house. He is working on figuring out how to make it economical to produce pigs without farrowing crates. No crates means the mom might crush pigs, or the pigs might freeze. It means that Matthew has to reinvent raising pigs.

Matthew has been raising pigs since he was a young boy. And he went to graduate school for pig genetics. Even so, raising pigs more humanely is a huge risk for him. He can go online and read about how other people do it but each farm has different weather, different crops, different layouts. It’s impossible to simply copy another farmer’s solution. Also Matthew already gets the highest price in Wisconsin for his pork, but it’s not nearly enough to cover the drama of trying to raise pigs outside of farrowing crates.

He puts the mom pig on a pasture, like a free-range cow, and the mom builds a nest and has her pigs and takes care of them.  Some days last summer he couldn’t find one of the moms. But the moms are completely capable of managing their piglets and raising them without farmer confinement.

This is a picture of a mom’s nest in the summer pasture. Everyone is warm and happy.

In the summer, that system works well, but Matthew needs to be able to continue supplying restaurants year-round. So he needs to have baby pigs in the spring and fall as well, which is when the pasture is too cold or too wet, so he has to have an alternative system.

He put the pigs into a fenced-off area where they could be in little huts. It worked well. The mom pigs stayed inside a quarter acre surrounded by an electric wire, and the baby pigs ran all over the place, but they always go back to their mom. Have you seen a picture of a farm where chickens run all over the place? We have chickens and piglets. People can’t believe it when they visit. A piglet approaches, like a puppy, to play.

Farmers see chaos and mayhem. I see revolutionary inventiveness. I kept telling Matthew that if people knew how much happier his pigs were than a regular pig, they would pay a premium. I tell him this is the future of pigs.

Things were going great until this spring. It was very very wet and very very cold.

The moms were supposed to make nests in the huts. But there was not really a place for the moms to stay dry. This is a picture of the nest inside the hut: cold and muddy.

There are a million variables in farming. If the ground thaws and then freezes the moisture is more in the dirt than if it doesn’t freeze. Or something like that. Matthew knows everything about the weather. (Here is something he told me that I swear has been true every time: “Rain before 7, done by 11. Rain after 8, rain til late.”)

So this spring, the pig experiment didn’t work. The piglets were born on the cold, wet ground, and in one week, sixteen piglets died.

Matthew lined them up and took a picture.

Like a Monday morning quarterback, he could see all the mistakes he made. He ended up buying bedding for the pigs that cost enough to make the pigs unprofitable for the whole season. He’s been caring for 100 pig litters a year for forty years. He never expected to make such a big mistake. He questioned everything: his IQ, his morals, his financial competence, he work ethic.

When things go bad for any business, it’s so easy to feel like a failure. But to have animals dying makes it all seem even worse. He told me he wanted to sell his farm.

I understand that feeling. It’s the feeling of wanting to give up when things go bad in your business. There are lots of ways to get past that moment. Each entrepreneur finds one that works for them.

1. Focus on the big idea. 
My  favorite is to focus on the big picture rather than the problem at hand.

I told him he’s a revolutionary. He must keep going. I told him he might have to kill hundreds of pigs and lose thousands of dollars, but someone needs to do that in order to lead the pork industry to a more humane way of economically raising pigs. Someone has to be a leader, and leaders lead by failing and trying again. I told him the happiest people have the hardest jobs.

My speeches do not inspire him. Revolutionaries seldom do that sort of thing in order to get attention as a leader. They do it because it is right, and they want to do what’s right. Revolutionaries are driven by something more important than ego.

So he told me to stop talking to him about it.

2. Take action.
Matthew personality type is ISTP. So he needs to focus on taking action as a way to get past a bad mistake.

He revised his system so that the next week of freezing rain didn’t kill any pigs. They were all dry and cozy.

And he is thinking about the next season of pigs, and the next set of problems. Like, I planted 20,000 bulbs last fall and the free-range piglets have dug up about 2000.

Matthew’s question is how to treat pigs more humanely and still have a profitable business. Every time he solves one problem, he gets another one. People  talk a lot about what makes a successful entrepreneur, and the answer is that they don’t quit. Each time a huge problem arises, an entrepreneur has a choice to work on solving it, or stop trying.

3. Surround yourself with people making mistakes and surviving.
The reason entrepreneurs hang out with each other is because it’s inspiring to watch people work on problem after problem.

And of course, that is true for life, as well.

Our lives are defined by the problems we take on. Every day I look out our window and I feel so lucky to have the piglets running around. They are a wonder to watch, and they create more and more problems, and Matthew is a wonder to watch solving them.

 

Posted in Entrepreneurship
87 comments on “Your approach to mistakes defines your success
  1. Patricia Rossi says:

    Penelope~

    Loved this line so so much.
    They do it because it is right, and they want to do what’s right.

    Best,
    Patricia

  2. karelys says:

    This is so very sweet and encouraging!

    And I want to hug The Farmer but that probably won’t encourage him anyway.

    The picture of the pigs lined up all dead is very shocking.

    I gotta go but I am printing this post to keep in my purse and reread every time I need it for weeks. Mostly because there are so many good points I just can’t swallow them all and assimilate them very well.

  3. Juliette says:

    The Farmer has a name! Ei-ei-O! Yay!

  4. cortney says:

    tk in graf 4!

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Got it. Thanks. And it’s always nice to connect with those copyediting types who recognize a TK when I forget to take it out.

      Penelope

      • Paul Hassing says:

        What does TK mean?

        • Penelope Trunk says:

          Well, this seems like a good time to announce to everyone that Paul is a copyeditor who copyedits my posts after they go up. He can ALWAYS find an error, which is amazing to me.

          Anyway, TK is a journalism thing– to come. Like, if you are missing the fact and you will get it later, after you finish writing the piece.

          When Matthew read my post, he thought it was hilarious that I would use a TK for how many years we’ve been together.

          Penelope

          • Paul Hassing says:

            Thank you, P. You’re very gracious and kind. It’s an hono(u)r to be in your orbit. Best regards, P. :)

          • cortney says:

            i might tk it if only because getting it wrong would make me nervous. i’d have to think about the exact amount of time and decide which way to round.

            as a former research editor (fact-checking supervisor), no tk surprises me. and it’s one of the most useful things ever if you don’t want to interrupt your writing flow to do a math problem or a google hunt. tktktk.

          • Gwen says:

            I never knew there was an actual term for that. I thought it was just me sticking things like “QUOTE FROM EPICURUS ON SCIENTIFIC METHOD GOES HERE” in my drafts.

            Learn something new every day. Handy.

  5. shayla says:

    i pay a premium for that pork because it’s darn tasty and because know that your farmer is working his butt off to make sure the piglets and their mamas are treated well.

    we’ve got to change the consumer culture – so more people start asking, “what was this animal fed? was it treated well?” and more! its going to take a bit more consumer consciousness, probably.

    anyway, great post!

    • mh says:

      “we’ve got to change the consumer culture” so they thus-and-so.

      You know, I am willing to make those choices for myself, but I don’t feel qualified to make decisions for the entire >culture<. Seems so totalitarian. Don't you agree?

      • Derek Scruggs says:

        Changing the culture is a far cry from Stalinism. Look at how tobacco use has declined.

        • mh says:

          One delicious example of the Law of Unintended Consequences in American Life is how sin taxes on tobacco were sold to fund education and/or child welfare programs. The parties who abhor the public health consequences of tobacco use are often the loudest advocates for higher education funding and/or Medicaid expansion and/or SCHIP.

          In a similar way, letting wealthy, educated, advantaged people (like the esteemed fellow commenters here on Penelope’s blog) decide how everyone ought to eat … troubles me. I shall decide for my family, and you can decide for yours. How does that sound?

          • gustavo says:

            Best way to change a culture is to give you information that helps you decide for yourself. Totalitarianism doesn’t work for changing how people think. That’s why even totalitarian states rely on propaganda to control their people. Give enough people a different perspective to think about, and there’s no limit to how much change you can effect.

          • mh says:

            gustavo,

            The best way to change a culture… I’ll have to think about that. The BEST way to change a culture.

            I don’t think changing the culture is a priority for me. I prefer to opt out of the culture.

            So how about this: the BEST way to change a culture is to offer a compelling option with a low-cost trade-off. (Costs are not necessarily prices). Also note, this is not the FASTEST way to change a culture, or the MOST SURE-FIRE way to change a culture.

  6. Kat Alexander says:

    Great post, Penelope. It helps to think of mini failures as dead piglets. It sucks, but it doesn’t mean you sell the farm.

  7. Amy Parmenter says:

    I will miss ‘the farmer’ but I love Matthew and I love that you are showing him such incredible respect here. Looks like he’s not the only one intent on solving problems. It’s what you have in common and what, apparently, you have applied to your personal lives as well as your professional lives…and I hope it means you will continue to live ‘happily ever after’…

    So happy for you both…

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

  8. mh says:

    “Surround yourself with people making mistakes and surviving.”

    Another good readon to hang around old folks and have your kids get to know them. All that life experience about success and failure and surviving — and the old folks are willing to talk to kids.

    • Morgan says:

      So true. Though logically I recognize that every person has made mistakes and has regrets, emotionally, it can be difficult to see how those mistakes and regrets will manifest themselves in positive ways when you’re in the shit. Conversations with people who have lived through it, even if the situations aren’t 1:1 comparable, are invaluable sources of relief and wisdom.

      For example, I just found out that my family had 80k worth of credit card debt for a period of time while I was growing up. I had no idea at the time, but this explains why my mother was so adamant about her kids never going into consumer debt.

  9. Kristin Ohlson says:

    Loved this post! I’m one of those who’s more than happy to pay more for food that has been raised well, with respect for both the animals and the land. But the whole system has to change so that good food is available to everyone.

    Penelope, I’m writing a book about revolutionary farmers and ranchers and scientists who are figuring out an agriculture that heals the land and doesn’t keep ruining it. Book comes out next Earth Day from Rodale. Let me know if I can send you a copy!

  10. Matthew says:

    Can’t he just make the floor of the pig hut raised so the water and the slush drain to the bottom, and maybe have a drainage thing going out from there under the botton of the hut out into the field?

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Everything is a tradeoff. If the bottom is closed then they are really difficult to clean. If the bottom is open a bit to make cleaning easier but still raised then the piglets could get stuck in the openings.

      Penelope

      • Matthew says:

        So we need a slush-drawer/drainage-pipe thing for easy cleaning below a strong-enough drainage grid contraption that has holes smaller than the little piggies tiny feet…can we put some warm, fluffy straw on top of the grid thing?

        • Elisabeth says:

          European agriculture might have some ideas worth investigating. Compassion In World Farming is one of the leading organisations helping farmers. See for example http://www.ciwf.org.uk/resources/publications/pig_farming/default.aspx

        • Dave says:

          A heavy grate that slides over a short concrete foundation. Push it in to keep sleepy piggies dry, pull it out to clean it. Enough concrete to support a piggie bed and one Momma pig (for the calcs assume weightless piglets). Need some concrete on both ends, but as a foundation to keep cleaning easy (and I’ve done that job). May even be a tax break as a new “permanent” structure. Just some ideas…

  11. Paul Hassing says:

    Nice, one P! By jingo, you sure struck a chord today! http://www.animalsaustralia.org/public-awareness/we-believe-in-a-world-without-factory-farming/ Kind regards and keep ‘em coming! P. :)

  12. Tom says:

    What about using geo-thermal heat to prevent soil bed from freezing..I know it has been used to keep sidewalks and roadways from freezing. It doesn’t appear that you would need to ‘heat’ the whole field, just install some undergroup loops below each hut…so you would have something like a little geothermal radiator below each one.

  13. Elisabeth says:

    There is hope: As of 1 January the ban on the use of sow
    stalls in pig production came into effect in the
    EU, while the practice has been banned in the
    UK since 1999. If we can manage it in Europe, so can the US. Matthew, keep up your pioneering work. Best wishes from across the pond.

  14. Davida says:

    As a #trep, I find this whole article AWESOME! Penelope- right on the head as always.

    This part made my week-“3. Surround yourself with people making mistakes and surviving.
    The reason entrepreneurs hang out with each other is because it’s inspiring to watch people work on problem after problem.

    And of course, that is true for life, as well.”

  15. Ru says:

    Your first picture with the spotty pig and the farmer –> Reminds me of one of childhood favourite book/movie: Babe

  16. Melanie says:

    Figure out a way to ship to SoCal and I’ll pay as much as you want to charge for heated, raised, fluffy, (hell, even self-cleaning!) huts for happy sows.

    Seriously. I would. Spend your mad money on marketing and we will all support his trial and errors. It’s important work.

  17. Sam says:

    I sent this article to my dad (elk rancher), and this was his suggestion:

    “Might I suggest old car bodies with the windows intact and seats removed. Put shredded straw (fine) in the trunk area for the little ones and gate it off so momma can’t get back there. On those really cold nights close the car door. Just the heat from her will keep it warm inside. However, better get out of bed early and open the car door before 8:00 am or the sun will heat it up.

    Up off the ground and high and dry. Pigs tend to wreck buildings and shelters over time. Things depreciate. Car bodies are tough, cheap and expendable.”

    Thought it was an interesting idea. But most people probably don’t want to clean out the body of a vehicle and/or have their yard look like a junkyard. :p

  18. JT says:

    Well, if you like being told about typos, here is one:

    “Matthew personality type is ISTP”

    Excellent post, BTW.

  19. Jael says:

    Fantastic! And of course, I love you, too.

    You are succeeding, too, in carrying on with your marriage, life, and dreams by following the same advice you give above in all of those dimensions. I am so very lucky to have happened upon your blog. This post makes me want to weep.

  20. pasha says:

    Huzzah! for The Farmer-cum-Matthew; love-love-love the respect thing going on there.

    Also, am crazy about feedback loops sortsa’ things (INTP) and love how you’ve shown that in his operation – every iteration gets better – he just needs the resources to see the problems through (like caring enough to provide the necessary emotional oomph).

    And, uh, the “experiment” didn’t “fail” – it was successful – it showed yet another way to not do the pigs; it successfully tested the hypothesis.

    I’m really excited for him solving this problem, trying out the different solutions (try=trial, yah) – because if he sticks it out he’ll inevitably find some great solutions. Given his background (education and primarily experience) it’s really easy to see this all happening; he’s a perfect guy for the task.

    Great post – keep up the good work!

    Aloha

  21. Sandra Pawula says:

    This is such an amazing story with so much heart. The lessons are an important bonus, but the art of being human is what touched me so much.

  22. AL says:

    As people are connecting emotionally with Matthew’s trials to increase the welfare of his pigs – why not make a community event out of it and ask people to sponsor each hut/ enclosure etc., in return for recognition or whatever else… Surely the cost is in the R&D? Kickstarter, your blog…etc?

  23. gustavo says:

    This post is really fantastic because no one else has managed to put a better perspective on the “failing is good” mantra that keeps getting thrown around with reckless abandon in startup circles.

  24. Darnell Jackson says:

    Why I don’t eat pork.

    They are adorable animals that are extremely intelligent.

    I used spell check to spell intelligent.

  25. Diana says:

    Hi Penelope,
    Sometimes the bigger the failure, the bigger the eventual payoff, because it lights a fire in your belly. As a kind, thoughtful person, the idea that your mistake has directly or indirectly led to the death of your animals would be absolutely harrowing. Matthew might be interested in this video of Allan Savory talking about his awful mistake (with elephants not pigs) and how it galvanised him into a lifetime of action. An amazing man, and very inspiring.
    http://myscienceacademy.org/2013/03/05/how-to-green-the-worlds-deserts-and-reverse-climate-change/?goback=.gde_1838810_member_227515377

  26. Carol-Anne says:

    Interesting post, but I would appreciate some warning before I scroll down to a picture of a pile of dead piglets, FFS!

  27. Anna says:

    As a person who has worked on farms for 7 years in the 90s (primarily pig production), I totally agree that ethics is contextual, and that ‘like every other profession, farmers just do what other farmers do’. Well written.

    I have some things to contribute in regard to outdoor pig farming.

    First of all, it isn’t new or revolutionary, it is a mature parallel pig production industry and particularly developed in the UK. I quickly googled the proportion of UK sow herds farmed outdoor because I remember it is significant, I found some UK pork farming stats from 2008 that said 26% and growing (source: animalfarmlife.eu. If I add any link my comment will probably end in the junk filter). It is probably easy to find newer stats. UK isn’t the only major pig producing nation with a significant outdoor production, but probably the most advanced.

    I worked in pig production in Denmark in the 90s, both indoor production with sows in farrowing crates (et.c), and outdoor with sows faring in huts like the ones on your pictures. They looked somewhat similar but more streamlined, and insulated.

    One of the big challenges was indeed to keeping the huts dry in autumn/winter. The major underlying problem was to keep the grass cover intact to prevent the whole area from degrading into a big mud hole/wet moon landscape, which can quickly lead to both animal welfare issues and environmental issues. The key factors driving that problem were soil type, weather & season (outside the farmer’s control), sow ringing (the rings put in the sows snouts to prevent them from wrecking the grass cover), and the type and frequency of driving in the area. Lots of heaving driving with tractors & machinery wreck the ground.

    Key factors for keeping the huts dry was:

    1. Place the production area on suitable land in the first place, with space enough for at least annual rotation = move the whole farm area to a new grass covered area at least once a year.

    2. Make sure all sows are ringed correctly (ring placed not too deep, yet not so superficial that it is easily ripped off) and sows that loose their rings immediately captured & re-ringed (in itself a bit of a project).

    3. Minimise the need for driving in the area with big feed dispensers or similar systems, effective automatic watering systems with ice-prevention features so they won’t need (much) manual watering in winter, light tractors with suitable twin wheels (depending on fencing), effective, light, low-pressure pig transport devices, light, effective machinery for straw-lining the huts, and so on.

    (I have most likely not remembered to include everything of major relevance, but you get the idea)

    My point is that there are many tried and tested solutions and systems for the problem you mention, so your friend isn’t a pioneer and doesn’t need to invent the wheel from scratch.

    I agree with you opinion about conventional pig production and farrowing crates. I don’t think they’ll be around in the long run (at least not in their current inhumane form); they are still around because they are still the easiest system to handle with the highest piglet survival rate.

    Gestation crates (even worse that farrowing crates IMO) used to be the norm too, but are now banned in the UK and being outphased in for example Denmark because other systems are competitive and more humane. I am sure farrowing crates will go the same way, and future citizens will look back at their history in horror, judging pig farmers of our as inhumane monsters.

    • Anna says:

      ‘Minimise driving’ = minimise the need for driving.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks so much for this comment. The UK is way ahead of US farmers in terms of humane pig farming because of laws against farrowing crates. And in fact, Matthew bought his pig huts from a company in the UK.

      What I really want to talk about though, is putting a ring on the sow’s nose. Many people would say that is inhumane. The point of the ring is to keep the sow from digging, but digging is completely core to the existence of a pig. Like not letting a hound sniff.

      Some people will be fine putting a ring in a sow’s nose. Those people will have much different land requirements for raising pigs than someone who won’t put the ring in. Matthew doesn’t use rings, so he has to give the sows an enormous amount of land to live on per sow in order to ensure that they don’t destroy the land.

      The truth is that pigs are hugely land intensive if you let pigs be pigs. But that would be expensive. And it’s debatable whether pigs will ever get to be pigs if they are being raised on a farm.

      I don’t have answers here, I’m just saying that the example of rings is a great way to understand how complicated it is to raise animals in a way that is consistent with our ethics.

      Penelope

  28. Leah McClellan says:

    Very interesting post-enjoyed this much. The story aspect as well as the insights about entrepreneurs are both great.

    I can appreciate the challenges of raising pigs just a little bit because my parents bought a couple of baby pigs each spring and raised them to be butchered for meat in the fall/winter (all natural, organic etc., nice pens, outdoor area/pasture).

    You’re right. They’re smart. And cute. And funny. And so I stopped eating them and most other kinds of animals (except fish sometimes) by my late teens because it felt too weird for me.

    But despite my own choice, I still think it’s great what your farmer aka Matthew is doing. I don’t see meat eating as “wrong” even though I don’t eat it myself, but the way animals are treated usually is just terrible. I’ve also read that conditions for workers in the industry can be horrible not to mention environmental problems it causes.

    But it seems to me if meat were raised carefully like this–and priced accordingly–people would really enjoy it and maybe not eat so much (from the industrial-sized producers) which could balance out some environmental problems. I remember everyone saying how delicious and amazing the meat was from the animals my family raised, and we didn’t really do anything special except give them a decent life and healthy food.

    Good luck with all this! Really cool :)

  29. renee @ FIMBY says:

    nice to finally meet the farmer, in name.

  30. Denys says:

    Matthew means “Gift from God” :-)

    My husband’s name is Matthew and my mother-in-law told me what his name meant when we first met. Good to be set straight!

  31. Nadine says:

    I love this post so much! It’s made me de-lurk! HUGE admiration for Matthew’s efforts.

  32. Colleen says:

    Just drove from the Twin Cities to the Dells a few weekends ago and mentioned to my riding partner how we think this spring is horrible, imagine the poor farmers and what they are dealing with. Now I know. Excellent post on many perspectives. Glad there are farmers like your family who still want to do “right”. Typing this as it’s snowing again another 6″ on April 22….:(

  33. kristen says:

    I buy Berkshire pork from Willow Creek Farms and pay premium prices in order to buy humanely raised pork.
    http://www.willowcreekpork.com/about.htm
    I’d be happy to buy from you as well.

  34. mbl says:

    Thank you for sharing this love letter to Matthew. I am so sorry about the piglets.

  35. Jana Miller says:

    I think we should get used to the fact that pork is seasonal. If the pork is healthier then I would be happy to buy pork only part of the year. That’s what we do with our fruit and veggies.

    Go Matthew…all us that like whole food are rooting for you! I’m not fanatical but I hate factory farming. It’s not good for anyone.

  36. rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel says:

    Well, that was way more that I expected to learn about baby pigs on a Monday. And, I appreciate the comments trying to solve the farmer’s problems very much. I would be actually curious if he reads through and adapts any of the ideas. Crowd sourcing pig farming problems if you will. And the analogy is really good too. We all make mistakes. At work I try to keep things light when we really f* it up by saying, “No lives were lost, how bad can it be?” Learning, many times, can be kind of painful.

  37. another Lisa says:

    When I finished reading your post the first thing I looked for was what it was posted in and I was secretly hoping it would be posted “in Love”. (Even though you don’t have that category) Entrepreneurship is good too but this time I think you used entrepreneurship to tell a love story instead of using your life to tell an entrepreneurship story. Beautiful.

  38. Louise Fletcher says:

    As a vegetarian who also lives among farmers, I love Matthew. We recently moved to the country and I’m finding it very hard to see the beautiful little lambs in the fields and know that in a month or two they’ll be taken from their mothers and driven, terrified, to a slaughterhouse where they’ll die a frightened and violent death. I want to save them all.

  39. Gary says:

    Stand by for the vegans to rake you and Matthew over the coals. I appreciate how you two sort of operate as a unit (though he won’t let you talk with him about hogs anymore. Finally, mh, I am neither rich nor privileged, I just love great writing, and P being willing to share her life with us through her great writing, typos or not! Thanks again, P, and may God bless you and Matthew, the boys, and all the unfettered farm animals!

  40. Jill says:

    I am a vegetarian (from Wisconsin) who is constantly talking about lack of consumer consciousness. This is one of your best posts.

  41. DorothyGale says:

    Yey Penelope! Love this post, Matthew is doing the right thing and fortunately he’s got you to support him ;-)

    I’m a massive supporter of farmers, it’s a tough way to make a living with a lot of responsibility and it makes sense to me that life for a farmer is much happier if they are able to treat their livestock respectfully and not be coerced into using tortuous methods in order to carve out a living.

    Here in the UK it’s becoming easier to find organic free range meat even in the supermarkets. It is more expensive but post BSE crisis there has been a shift in awareness of the effects of intensive farming methods – routine antibiotics, processed feed etc. There is still a long way to go but there is an increasing consumer demand for organic and free range so supermarkets have had to start supporting the farmers who are supplying the produce.

    Consumers drive the demand but the availability has to be there, so I really admire Matthew for changing his farming methods to something more humane and embracing all the variables that come with it. Profit will come eventually and other farmers can take notice of what he is doing and will able to learn from him. That he is following his instinct and doing what is right despite taking a hit financially (initially) and changing from the accepted norms of farming is inspiring in itself.

    Wish you both all the best

  42. Chris says:

    What do you think the boys are learning from this, Penelope? I cannot imagine luckier children, able to see at close range, the animals, the respect, the problem-solving, the “ethics”.

    This is the full range of human experience, the pathos, the resilience, the perseverance and indomitable spirit.

    Can a movie, any movie, be more entertaining than the piglets? Can the work ethic be duplicated anywhere else besides farm life? Can the boys understand danger/risks any better anywhere else? Can they comprehend warm, dry and cozy and the value of warm, dry, and cozy (safe) any better? What a clear analogy to what WE need as human animals!

    Many of us are insulated and removed from what is genuine. Thanks for connecting us to what is real and elemental!

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks so much for the nice comment, Chris. I worry a lot that I have isolated my kids too much now that I’m homeschooling them in the middle of nowhere. You remind me to look at the other side of that coin.

      Penelope

  43. Erinn says:

    Most of us depend on farmers at least three times a day for our meals, and we should all be paying a lot more attention to not only what we are eating but how it is produced. I personally would rather eat less meat and spend more money on it knowing it was raised as ethically as possible.

    I love these posts about intelligent, compassionate farming. I am tired of seeing farmers portrayed as silly caricatures. I am a divorce lawyer in Ontario, Canada, and have loved pigs all my life and (to the extreme horror of my family and friends) took a course on pastured pigs last fall and will be doing a farm stay on a pastured pig farm this summer. Thank you so much for the farm updates, and stay strong–your family is doing important work, and I’d be happy to pay the premium price of your pork if you were a little bit closer to me!

  44. Tom Lipscomb says:

    As a teenager, I raised hybrid hogs so they were elongated (leaner), fed them 16% protein feed, and housed them in large pins. I discovered if pigs were happy they grow faster and were healthier. As a result, I won awards for my hams and bacon. Sold some hams for about $200 and bacon slabs for approx.. $40.The problem was my bacon was too lean and required butter to fry in a skillet.

  45. Kim says:

    P, I loved it when you first referred to the Farmer by his name during your writing workshop. So glad Matthew is now ‘official’ in the blog in such a wonderful post of recognition and encouragement on what it takes to be a trailblazer for something that matters.

    btw, I’ve been waiting for a spectacular photo of the 20,000 (minus 2,000!) spring bulbs since you posted about planting them lol.

  46. jessica says:

    Penelope, have you or your husband ever heard of “polyface farms”? I think you would really like how they do things… YouTube is a good place to start…

  47. Kate says:

    Thank you for this post today. I am dealing with some non-work related but extremely difficult kid issues right now, and these principle apply equally well.
    1. The Big Idea- Raising my children overall, not the problem at hand.
    2. Take Action- Don’t ignore the problem, but get help and move through it.
    3. Surround Yourself- Find friends and other parents who recognize that extremely hard stuff is part of life and who support me as I deal with it rather than judge me or undermine me.
    Thank you.

  48. foodfashionandflow says:

    Loved reading this post. What really struck a chord with me was surrounding yourself with people making mistakes and surviving. I am learning that who you surround yourself with is an important component to success.

    After reading this post and looking at the photos, I feel a bit guilty for liking bacon.

  49. Chevalisa Bruzzone says:

    I read this blog, and I cried. The really good kind of tears.
    Thank you.

  50. Jael says:

    Penelope,

    Have you ever heard of the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan? I heard him being interviewed on NPR a few years ago and found the topic of sustainable/ethical farming fascinating. He has since followed up with In Defence of Food, which explores the reality of what most Americans consume as food vs what actually IS food. I would really appreciate Matthew’s opinion on these topics, coming from behind the scenes. My father was a pig farmer in the cult we lived in for much of my childhood. My mother wouldn’t allow me to go with him to work because she didn’t want me to see the dead baby pigs. My father also believed that pigs should be allowed some freedom, and he always hated bringing them indoors to birth because the sows had to be penned etc. When I was finally old enough, he took me through the entire operation explaining everything they did and why, as well as the things he didn’t like and what he wanted to do to change them.

    He also didn’t eat pork, simply because it was emotionally difficult for him. Once a year when he had a slaughtering, he would let himself have some sausage gravy.

    • Madeleine says:

      Amy Goodman just interviewed Michael Pollan for Democracy Now about his new book “Cooked”.

      http://www.democracynow.org/2013/5/6/michael_pollan_on_how_reclaiming_cooking

      During minutes 11-16 he talks about whole-hog BBQ in North Carolina. He visited a pit master who came to believe that typical hog raising is inhumane, and so shifted to the more expensive hogs raised in a more ethical manner. His sandwiches cost 9$ vs. 3$. However, the thing that really struck me was the amount of pushback this guy got for speaking out and trying to make a change. After he took a stand, he noticed a dramatic increase in the number of tickets, audits, inspections, etc that he received, resulting in the closure of one of his restaurants. Of course, it could all be coincidence, but a lot of powerful people have a vested interest in keeping the system of cheap pork as it is.

      Matthew is fighting a battle that extends far beyond the farm gate, but he’s not alone.

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