Local Spotlight: Thompson Farms
By Gretchen Hein
This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy ate . . . The pigs that go to market from Thompson Farms Smokehouse eat millet and rye and are free-range pigs, roaming around the 350 acres that comprise Thompson’s. “Natural pork” is the label given for the way they are raised. They are as close to organically raised pork as it comes. The locally-produced corn and soybean milk that supplement their diet are not organically grown, but the fields they graze have been certified organic. According to Operations Manager Andrew Thompson, supplementing their diet with organically-grown corn and soybeans would make the pork outrageously expensive.
As with most large scale agriculture, steroids, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides have become standard fare in hog farming. Raymond Thompson and his father started raising pigs back in the 1930s in southern Brooks County, Georgia with a commitment to raise the best pigs around. In those days hog farmers used to let their pigs roam the woods and fields of their farms. Then, when they were big enough, they were sent to market. In the late ’80s and early ’90s environmentalists pushed to protect the woods from damage caused by the pigs, and farmers were offered incentives to move the pigs to finishing slabs—large, enclosed concrete slabs. Large numbers of pigs were moved into crowded conditions, off the earth and onto concrete. With this move came the need to use antibiotics, then growth steroids, and pretty soon the commercial pork industry was inundated with chemicals galore. The Thompsons originally went along with the program, accepting government assistance to build finishing slabs. Then the reality of what they were up against hit them and they quickly found another way. They moved their pigs back out onto the land, where pigs belong, and began to rotate them through the fields in much the same way cattle farmers do, modifying farming principles that had been used for hundreds of years.
I met with Andrew, Raymond’s son who showed me around the farm and facility. Every two weeks a group of babies are weaned from their mothers and cared for until they are ready for market. On our trip we saw pigs of all sizes; newborn babies in the fields with their mothers, recently weaned ones running together in a protected area, and great big ones laying in the shade of a big oak tree or hanging in the pig pond, very muddy but quite content. The youngest pigs meander through the parking area several times a day as they roam the land. The bigger ones are confined to pastures with an electrical fence, keeping them out of the woods, but with lots of room to move.
On Mondays the pigs are loaded onto a trailer and carried to Moultrie, Georgia where they are slaughtered. When the pork returns to Thompson’s it becomes bacon, sausage, ham, ribs and so on. There’s a salt-curing cooler as well as a smokehouse. They use local pecan for the smoking. A full-time onsite USDA inspector makes sure everything is done according to regulations, not that the Thompson’s would take any shortcuts. They take their commitment to cleanliness and purity seriously. They are proud of their products—country cured hams and bacon, smoked sausage, pork loins, pork chops and smoked whole hams. They make fresh sausage links and patties, and they barbecue as well, so you can get fully cooked pulled barbeque pork and smoked pork ribs. The Thompson family cares about the land they live on and the fresh and smoked pork they produce.
The goal at Thompson’s is to provide fresh, naturally-grown, environmentally-friendly products in a friendly atmosphere. I must confess that I didn’t taste their fare as I don’t eat meat. I did ask around and found a family member and several friends who think that Thompson’s pork is some of the best they’ve ever had. So for those of you who like to eat pork, the Thompson family offers pork that’s great tasting, locally produced and naturally raised. Unless you raise your own, it doesn’t come any better. You can find Thompson Farms products in the meat department at New Leaf Market. Give them a try and see for yourself!