DRIFTLESS - The Driftless Area Back to the Land Cooperative of pastured pork producers reached an important milestone at their board meeting in Readstown on Monday, August 13. The board voted to hire two local individuals, Marcy and Mike Donskey, as their sales and marketing team. The Donskeys live in the LaFarge area, and are producers of pastured pork and organic crops themselves.
“We have been focusing first on designing our sales materials with pricing and an updated logo, and refreshing our web site,” Marcy Donskey reported. “We’re also hitting the ground running with making sales calls exploring the kind of high end sales we need to provide our farmers with a fair pay price.”
The Donskeys say that part of their marketing plan is to represent the co-op at local events where they can sample their products and raise awareness of the taste and health benefits of pastured pork.
“Pastured pork is really a different pork from what most Americans buy at the supermarket,” Marcy Donskey explained. “It is a darker pink, almost red, in color, and is rich and juicy. So, we think that just allowing people to sample pork that tastes the way pork should taste will spark interest in our products.”
Donskey reports that the co-op donated pork breakfast sausages for the 4-H Pancake Breakfast offered at the Tainter Creek Watershed Council’s education event, and the sausages received rave reviews. The group will also be serving up a whole roasted hog at the Readstown Labor Day celebration.
“We want to participate in more local events,” Donskey said. “But we are looking mainly at planning for next year at this point, having just gotten going in August.”
The co-op has been focused on sales of whole and half hogs into specialty retail fresh cases, as well as to high-end restaurants in nearby urban areas.
“We’re starting small with a few pigs per week,” Mike Donskey said. “The next step will be to start to bring retail cuts, fresh or frozen, to market. Our growth will be driven by sales.”
Mike Mueller, a founding farmer of the co-op, seems happy with the group of board members they have recruited. The group is elected to the board from the 26 members the co-op currently has, and brings a nice mix of talents and backgrounds to the table.
“Daniel Yoder and Randy Schwarz are really the businessmen of the operation, the numbers guys,” board member Corey Everts said. “Mike and Sue Mueller were the visionaries that pulled us all together, and I hope to contribute my background in the culinary profession into the sales and marketing effort.”
The co-op was officially incorporated on November 28, 2017, and has made steady and sustainable progress in the time since to serve their members by developing markets for their pork.
“We are at the transition point from preparation to diving in,” Mike Mueller said. “Hiring Marcy and Mike to manage sales and marketing for us is an exciting next step.”
The Co-op’s website is www.driftlessareacoop.com Marcy Donskey can be reached at 608-633-0633, firstname.lastname@example.org Mike Donskey can be reached at 608-797-6072. Producers interested in learning more about the Co-op can contact Mike Mueller at 608-412-0725, email@example.com
Corey Everts produces pastured pork on his 30-acre farm located between Viola and Richland Center. He raises heritage breed Gloucestershire hogs, and runs them in the fall in an orchard on his property.
Everts grew up on a hog and grain farm in Iowa. After graduating from college, Everts attended the Culinary Insitute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
“I’ve always had a love for good pork and pigs,” Everts said. “But as a culinary professional, I’ve always found it difficult to find good pork. When I decided to return home and put down some roots, I also decided I wanted to be involved in producing great tasting pork.”
Everts describes his Gloucestershire hogs as ‘throw back’ hogs. The ‘old-timey’ breed is a good producer of lard, and is known to be an ‘orchard pig.’
“They say that the Gloucestershire hogs have spots on them from apples falling on them,” Everts joked. “They have a good temperament, they’re easy on the land, and they make great pork.”
Everts reports that the reason he joined the co-op is to access another market for his pasture raised pork. He has been marketing and selling his product for the last few years at local farmers markets, and to higher end restaurants in southern Wisconsin.
“There are many advantages to raising hogs in a pasture-based system,” Everts said. “Hogs work very well with electric fencing which has become much less expensive and easier to use in recent years. It’s a great option for smaller farmers or farmers looking to add in another cash crop in their farm operation.”
Everts said that pastured hogs can help to clear woods, and can be pastured in areas that aren’t the ‘prime pastures’ on a farm.
“Pigs are very flexible animals, and the heritage breeds aren’t as delicate as the breeds used in confined production,” Everts explained. “They don’t take much infrastructure, and they’re very hardy.”
Everts said that because the hogs are not confined, and have room to roam and express natural behaviors such as rooting, they don’t exhibit the kinds of problem behaviors that you see in confined hogs.
“Pasturing allows pigs to be pigs,”Everts said. “And if you are truly managing them in a rotational system, then they are beneficial versus destructive to the land as well.”
Everts is selecting from his breeding stock for good maternal behaviors. He explained that pigs on pasture will farrow outside or in a simple shelter, without much help. For this reason, it is important to select for good maternal instincts.
“And pastured pigs work out to be a very good return on investment,” Everts said. “A single sow can farrow twice in a season, producing up to 16 animals per year. Cows only birth once per year, by contrast.”
Everts described the differences of pastured versus conventional pork from a culinary professional perspective.
“The pork is a deep pink to red in color, and has a firmer texture than conventional pork,” Everts explained. “Also, because the breeds produce more fat than the conventional breeds used in confinement operations, the meat is juicier and more flavorful.”
Everts said the key with producing pastured pork is to realize that they are going to grow to market weight more slowly than their conventional counterparts. Pasturing of heritage breeds allows them to grow more slowly, and thus to put on more muscle over time.
“It’s also a real advantage having pigs out on pasture because you don’t get big lagoons full of manure,” Everts said. “That means that your neighbors aren’t going to complain about the stink, and spreading the manure out does wonderful things for your soil.”
Rich Sitarski, who raises elk in rural Gays Mills, has recently closed on the purchase of the old creamery building in Soldiers Grove owned by Guy Nelson. Along with his business partner, Duane Johanes of D&K Custom Processing, they plan to open and operate a custom butchering business in the building that will be known for humane practices and organic certification.
“We are working with Delta-3 Engineering out of Platteville, and have firmed up the preliminary drawings for the configuration,” Sitarski said. “We’ve already let out a few bids, and expect work to begin soon on installing the main freezer and on electrical work.”
Sitarski says that he and Johanes plan to roll out the business in three phases. The first phase will be to allow Johanes to expand his current on-farm custom butchering business. Johanes has been limited in his growth by the capacity of his mobile cooler. The two hope to have this component of the business up and operating by the end of 2018.
For those interested in custom, on-farm, butchering, Duane Johanes of D&K Custom Processing can be reached at 608-632-9137, firstname.lastname@example.org
The second phase will be to expand into a sausage-making and meat smoking business, hopefully by the spring of 2019. The third phase will be to open a kill floor where farmers bring their animals in to be butchered. The two are tentatively projecting a January 2020 opening date for this phase of the business development.
Mike and Susan Mueller are also moving forward with plans to rent space in the building for a local products retail and online sales business. The two hope to launch business operations by the spring of 2019. Susan Mueller will take the lead on this business, with her husband Mike in a supporting role.
“We plan to sell locally produced, pasture-raised pork,” Susan Mueller said. “Eventually we plan to expand into other pasture-raised meats such as chicken, and even other locally-produced products like produce, eggs and possibly breads.”