FREDERICKTOWN, Ohio – Ed Snavely firmly believes conventional, commodity production agriculture will support fewer and fewer Ohio farmers.
“The days when you could raise corn and take what they pay you at the elevator are gone,” said the Knox County pork producer. “You’re not just going to be able to load your animals up and take them to Producers and they send you a check.”
Snavely has developed direct-to-consumer markets for his certified organic pork and also grows certified organic FG1 soybeans, a food grade variety developed in Ohio that commands premium prices.
Most of his meat sales are made at a seasonal farmers’ market in Worthington, Ohio, from May through October, and through direct on-farm sales and repeat customers the rest of the year. But this year, Snavely is exploring another market for the choicest of his organic pork cuts: an upscale Cleveland restaurant.
Snavely, whose organic production is certified through the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and the Organic Crop Improvement Association, is supplying fresh pork to chef Parker Bosley, owner of Parker’s.
The market agreement was many months in the making and included a farm visit by the chef. “That kind of impressed me,” Snavely admitted. “He really wanted to know how these hogs were being raised.”
The two had to iron out details for delivery and production quantity, slaughter schedule and a cutting plan with the slaughterhouse.
“Since meat products are much more difficult to purchase direct from the farm than vegetables, this is quite an accomplishment,” said Bosley. “Ed is one of the most receptive farmers (to the chef’s needs and interests) that I have met.”
Delivery was an important link in the agreement. “I knew he wanted fresh pork, but I’m not making deliveries,” Snavely said, who also works full-time off the farm at a local machine shop. But because he wants the marketing agreement to succeed, he has made one delivery.
Other pick-ups have been made by Bosley and through Bob Flannery of Ohio Farm Direct.
Making sure he had a market for the less desirable cuts the chef didn’t want was also a big concern. Bosley wants the prime cuts like the loin and shoulder. “What am I going to do with the rest of it?” Snavely said. So far that hasn’t been a problem, as he’s been able to sell the other cuts through his normal marketing channels at the market or directly from the farm.
The Black River Cafe in Oberlin is also purchasing some of Snavely’s bacon.
Like any successful marketing effort, working directly with a chef takes a committed producer, Snavely said.
“It’s going to take more of your time,” he admitted, “but I’ve got a niche product here.”
Snavely’s hogs have been raised outdoors for nine years, and the pork producer credits that environment for the low level of health problems in his herd.
“I haven’t had a vet on the farm, except for 4-H papers, in nine years,” Snavely said. “I just don’t have the health problems I did with confinement.”
Sows farrow in outdoor huts in all but the harshest weather. In fact, two years ago, his four indoor farrowing pens were full and a sow gave birth in one of the outside huts in 5-degree weather, raising eight of the nine pigs.
The pigs are half-Duroc and half-Hampshire, but Snavely said the newer breeds don’t adapt well to the outdoors and recently bought 12 Tamworth sows, an older red breed known for its ability to adapt. At the urging of Parker Bosley, he’s also considering locating another old swine breed, the Gloucestershire Old Spots, known as good foragers and grazers.
Snavely raises the organic feed for the hogs on his 114-acre farm, or purchases organic soybeans from neighbors. His ration includes his own corn, his soybeans that he runs through an extruder, kelp, natural salt and soft rock phosphate, and a clover-alfalfa mix hay. He also plants turnips in August (this year in a stand of harvested sweet corn), and turns out the sows to graze in those paddocks.
Snavely, whose crops have been certified organic since 1989, farmed conventionally with his father since the early 1970s. Together, they were farming up to 600 rented and owned acres, and Ed had a conventional 40-sow farrow-to-finish confinement herd.
But after his father died in 1983, Ed backed off the acreage, got rid of the pigs, except for six sows, and started thinking seriously about farming without inorganic chemicals. In 1986, he quit farming with chemicals cold turkey, getting a lot of advice from longtime organic farmers Rex and Glenn Spray, also of Knox County.
He got serious about raising organic pork about six years ago, and has been an OEFFA certified organic pork producer since 1994. But that also meant finding a certified organic processor, so the Sprays, who raise organic beef, and Snavely convinced Michael Jesse, owner of DeeJays in Fredericktown, to work with them and DeeJays is now also a certified processor of organic meats.
Certified pork cuts from Snavely’s Curly Tail Organic Farm carry ingredient labeling as required by the USDA and Ohio Department of Agriculture. All lots are identified and can be traced back to specific tagged animals.
Demand for his pork has boomed since he started attending the farmers’ market in Worthington about three years ago. The past two years, he’s only sold four or five on the open market. Including breeding stock and feeder pigs, Snavely averages about 100 head.
Snavely is comfortable with his level of production and the new agreement with Bosley, so much so that he’s willing to look for more chefs to supply, particularly if son Brandon, now a high school junior, joins his operation.
For information on Snavely’s organic pork production, write: Curly Tail Organic Farm, 11464 Yankee St., Fredericktown, OH 43019; or phone him at 740-694-8622.
Related links: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, www.oeffa.org