They also knew they'd have to create their own audience, one customer at a time. They had hoped to sell their pork at greenmarkets in nearby Saratoga Springs and Troy, but there was no space available, so they ventured four hours south, to New York City, rented stalls at the Union Square and Grand Army Plaza greenmarkets, and suddenly found themselves acting as de facto transporters, distributors, and salespeople of their meat, while also running the farm and holding down 9-to-5 office jobs. It helped that Flying Pigs' meat practically sold itself—to the chefs who trolled the markets looking for fresh, high-quality ingredients, and to food-savvy consumers. "We started getting a lot of positive feedback," says Jen. "We realized we were onto something."
In 2003 Jen became pregnant and the couple agreed that something had to give (Jane was born in 2004, and Charlie followed two years later). So Mike left his job to devote himself full-time to Flying Pigs. Jen now works part-time for American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving agricultural resources. "People see farming as this romantic dream job," says Jen. "They think, 'I'll just run off and be a farmer.' But it takes years to build a good customer base. We both had two full-time jobs for the first five years. That's the reality, folks. You build slowly. You work very hard."
One aspect of Jen and Mike's life is too hard for most nonfarmers even to contemplate. The idea of raising animals and then sending them off to slaughter often makes people squeamish. But consider the bigger picture. According to Paul Roberts in his book The End of Food, "The largest [pork slaughterhouse] in the world...in Tar Heel, North Carolina, processes 2,000 pigs an hour." And for these pigs, life is as mass-produced as death; they spend it squashed together indoors, in filthy conditions. In 1980 the average American hog farm was home to 101 animals. Today that average is 1,173. The "successful" family farm is now a CAFO—concentrated animal feeding operation—with a sewage output equivalent to that of a midsize city.
"Look, I understand and respect people who don't eat meat," says Jen, who as a teenager abandoned her dream of becoming a veterinarian when she realized that she'd have to euthanize animals. "But if you do, this is the kind you should eat."
We Hear You!