"We Are All Farmers," Mark Baker Tells Foodies in His 1st Traveling Butchering Class; Bad Cheese Aftertaste at Morningland
Michigan pig farmer Mark Baker has been under a virtual embargo the last several months because of his state’s prohibition on raising so-called “feral” pigs--essentially any pigs that Big Ag doesn’t want to see produced. The high-end restaurants he formerly supplied with heritage pork don’t want to do business with him for fear local public health authorities will come down on them. The local USDA slaughterhouse won’t handle his pigs because its owners fears regulator reprisals.
So Baker has begun exploiting the only option he could think of: taking his knowledge about pig butchering and meat curing on the road. His first stop was this weekend at a home in Concord, MA, nearly within sight of the Old North Bridge, where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in 1775.
There, in the garage of Farmageddon documentary producer Kristin Canty, Baker laid out a recently slaughtered pig, and over two days during the weekend instructed 16 area residents how to turn it into pork chops, roasts, ham shanks, and bacon, among other items. They paid $100 each for the new skills he instructed them in.
He also provided insights into his struggle against Big Ag and for the right to sell his heritage pigs, free of government prohibitions. At a dinner Saturday evening, following a day of butchering instruction, Baker spoke to the attendees about his struggles with the state of Michigan. “This is not about pigs, it’s about freedom,” he said.
The state has classified the heritage breed of pigs he raises as feral, based on allegations such breeds roam wild and destroy farm fields and forests. “They say there are 5,000 to 7,000 feral swine around in Michigan,” explained. “I have never seen one.”
Baker has sued the state over its attempt to outlaw the pigs he raises, but the suit will likely not be heard until this spring, or even later. In the meantime, he is being required to abide by the prohibition.
He said that only one other farmer has stood with him in opposition to the state. “Most of the farmers are laying low, waiting to see what happens to us” and to the suit.
A former military man of twenty years, Baker vowed to resist the state. “This is one farm and this is one guy who is digging in his heels.”
Baker was clearly moved by the show of support among Massachusetts foodies who committed to spending the weekend learning how to butcher a pig. “You are doers. You are here on a Saturday cutting up pigs. We are starting to feel our food is in jeopardy. I used to think the solution was, ‘We’ll sue ‘em. The real solution is what we did here today.”
He added: “Everyone here is a farmer. If you just grow a few tomatoes, you are a farmer.”
Special thanks to Kristin Canty for organizing the Mark Baker event on short notice. And to Deborah Evans, who runs her own hog farm in Maine, who assisted Baker. It’s a potentially promising model for other groups around the country that want to support farmers standing up for food rights, and teach essential skills in the process.
While Mark Baker understands the political implications of Michigan’s campaign against small hog farmers, he is being careful to avoid the trap of political ideology. In this incisive article by U.S. News & World Reports editor Simon Owens on efforts by the Tea Party to tap into unhappiness about food rights, Baker expresses his reservations of committing to any party or ideology.
Also on Friday, the last chapter in the long Morningland Dairy saga was written when state of Missouri regulators carted off more than 30,000 pounds of condemned cheese that dairy had fought for more than two years to preserve. The three regulators had to walk hot coals before they could take the cheese, though, as you’ll see in this video of the events.