Curly Tail Organic Farm: How This Little Piggy Got to Market
This year's Celebrate the Hands that Feed You coincides with what would otherwise have been the launch of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, Slow Food International's every-other-year gathering of delegates and supporters of good, clean, and fair food. This year, the experience is a virtual one and scheduled with events until April 2021.
In this post, Slow Food Columbus Board member and Worthington Farmers Market's Market Manager Christine Hawks shares her experience talking with Ed Snavely of Curly Tail Organic Farm (Fredericktown, OH). Ed was a delegate at the first Terra Madre event in 2004 and was selected to attend again 2006.
These photos were taken by Ed while at Terra Madre in 2004. Prince Charles was a keynote speaker that year; you can see him on the screen and at the podium in this first image.
Ed Snavely’s Curly Tail Organic Farm has been a fixture at the Worthington Farmers Market for 23 years. Tall in stature and quiet in demeanor, you’ll know you’ve found his booth by his genuine smile and the grunt of his toy pigs, gifted to him by customers, that practically beg to be given a squeeze! That toothsome grin is now hidden behind a mask and those squishable pigs enjoy regular sanitizing baths, but if there’s one thing that Ed knows (besides how to raise heritage breed hogs), it’s adaptability.
Ed, an Ohio native, was raised on the family farm in Knox County. Hogs have always been part of the farm, and as a child, Ed raised pigs to show at the county fair through his local 4-H Club. Despite his familiarity with farming, or perhaps because of, Ed’s dream was to use his hands to build things and become a carpenter. His journey along that path was short-lived as the farm beckoned his return when his father’s health began to falter in 1973.
While maintaining his full-time career in manufacturing, Ed was spending an increasing amount of time dedicated to the business of farming. Gradually, Ed began to make changes on the farm that reflected his point of view about food and how it is raised. In 1986, the chemical pesticides used to treat the crops fed to the hogs were eliminated after Ed learned about the detrimental effects these chemicals had on the feed crops, on the hogs that ate them and ultimately on the health of those that consumed that pork.
This change and others that Ed made led the way to the farm’s organic certification by OEFFA in 1989 and then, dual certification in 1995, when his farming practices were certified by the OCIA (Organic Crop Improvement Association), now known as Green Growers Chapter. The organic certification of the farm refers to the small grain feed (barley, spelt, oats, corn and soybeans) grown on the farm that is the primary diet for the hogs. The pork cannot be labeled as certified organic because both the farm and the processor of the pork must have their certification. The processor is not certified organic.
Ed continued to expand his knowledge and application of sustainable farming practices, expanding his sales to three farmers markets. In 2004, as a participant in the Cleveland Heights Farmers Market, Ed and Curly Tail Organic Farm caught the attention of two members of the Cleveland Chapter of Slow Food. At this time, in Turin, Italy, the first Slow Food International Terra Madre community gathering was being planned. Encouraged and supported through fundraisers by the Cleveland Slow Food Chapter and Cleveland area restaurants, Ed applied and was accepted as one of the first US delegates to attend this inaugural international event.
While in Turin, Ed was immersed in Italian food and cultures along with the Slow Food values:
· GOOD: quality, flavorsome and healthy food
· CLEAN: production that does not harm the environment
· FAIR: accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for producers
His Italian hosts and his fellow delegates piqued his curiosity with the variety of methods food was being sustainably produced around the globe and how it was consumed. Ed recalls visiting a dairy in a rural Italian village. 75% of the milk produced at the dairy was sold to the village, on the honor system. The townspeople would bring their pitchers, fill them up and then leave payment for the milk.
Terra Madre is now a bi-annual, international convention of chefs, farmers, food producers and community food activists working collaboratively to establish a system of good, clean and fair food. Ed was fortunate to again be selected to attend Terra Madre as a US delegate in 2006.
His experience in Turin continues to influence how Ed raises his hogs. He has since expanded his heritage breeds from exclusively Tamworth (a heritage breed from England) to include Herfords and Berkshire hogs. The heritage breeds have not been bred to be lean and lower in fat as commodity pigs have, so their meat has a richer, more complex and some might say, an old-fashioned flavor. If you remember pork from your childhood tasting different than what you find in today’s supermarket, this could be the reason why.
On average, Ed maintains a herd of 50 pigs, year-round. Typically, he breeds 6 sows, each having two litters a year. From birth to processor, it takes 6 ½ months to finish a hog. The high protein, high fiber small grain diet that Ed’s pigs enjoy means that it takes longer to build the muscle to finish the pigs than the commodity corn and soybean diet.
Ed retired from manufacturing in 2017 and is now a full-time farmer. Each week, you can find Ed at the Worthington Farmers Market and his wife, Beth, representing Curly Tail Organic Farm at the Countryside Market in the Cuyahoga Valley. Ed’s bacon is a customer favorite, but if you ask him, Ed will tell you his favorite preparation is a simple grilled pork chop or a baked ham steak, layered with sliced potatoes and green beans and smothered with cream of mushroom soup.
If you haven’t tried organically fed pork, Ed dispels the myth that organic = expensive. When shopping with Ed, you can expect an experience similar to visiting your neighborhood butcher shop…if your neighborhood still had a family-owned butcher shop. Ed is generous with his knowledge, helping customers select the right cut of meat and providing suggestions for the best preparation to ensure peak texture and flavor. And, if you have the time, he will happily share photos of the newest litter of pigs.
This is the farm that Ed built. And, though he didn’t become a carpenter, he is a craftsman and a master of his trade. Ed has built a community of supporters appreciative of his commitment to bringing his sustainably and organically raised pigs to market.