Hand Hewn Farm finds niche in hog butchering workshops

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guy wrapping up meat on a table
Doug Wharton wraps a brisket to be put in a smoker later in the butcher shop at Hand Hewn Farm, in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, Sept. 10, 2021. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

Driving by on the gravel township road, you might mistake Hand Hewn Farm for just a defunct old dairy farm sitting out in the countryside in rural Ohio.

You wouldn’t be totally wrong. That’s what it is, but something new has been born from the Patterson farm’s shuttered milking parlor.

Friends Andy and Kate Lane and Doug and Molly Wharton moved to the farm, owned by Andy’s family, with their young families in 2015. Together with another friend, they started out raising a variety of animals on pasture and selling meat and eggs at local farmers markets.

But what has emerged as the farm’s bread and butter, so to speak, is the three-day intensive butchering workshops Andy and Doug host. People travel from all over to attend, and Andy and Doug have traveled as far as Oklahoma and Texas to hold the workshops at other farms.

The pair teaches participants how to take a hog from pasture to plate, using the animal as efficiently as possible. The old milking parlor is now home to their butcher shop, where they show people basic primal cuts, as well as how to make sausages and cured meats.

“They see the pig get killed, then later that day they’re making blood sausage from that pig,” Andy said.

Mistakes were made

Despite their success, Andy and Doug didn’t start out with a lot of knowledge.

The two met in 2009 at a farmers market in Knox County, where they had both gone to college and ended up living afterward. Some mutual friends connected them. Doug and his wife, Molly, had just bought an old farmhouse on a few acres. Andy and Katie bought a house and property nearby. For five years, the two families homesteaded together.

The second year in, Doug bought a few piglets to raise for the families. It wasn’t until the pigs were nearly grown that he realized they didn’t have a great plan for how to get them butchered.

“The pigs grew up. I knew I couldn’t take them to a processor in the bed of my Ford Ranger,” Doug said. That was how the piglets first arrived at the farm. “I didn’t have a livestock trailer. Andy said ‘Why don’t we do it ourselves?’”

This was before the days of YouTube videos, he said. They had a copy of Carla Emery’s “Encyclopedia of Country Living” and a neighbor who said he could help. The first time, many mistakes were made. And the time after that, more mistakes were made.

“We made one mistake after another,” Doug said, of learning how to butcher. “And no pig was the same. It was all different.”

The pair kept doing it year after year, to feed their own families. They learned from their mistakes and tried things differently until they figured out what worked.

guys standing side by side
Andy Lane and Doug Wharton stand for a photo in their butcher shop at Hand Hewn Farm, in Tuscarawas County, Sept. 10. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

Moving to the farm

 In 2015, both families were looking for more land. That’s when Andy had the idea to see if they could move to his family’s land in Tuscarawas County.

Andy’s grandparents bought the farm in 1950 and milked cows there until the ’80s, when Andy’s uncle took over. The uncle added more cows and built a new milking parlor, but was forced to sell out and quit milking in 1996. The bank took everything it could, Andy said.

Since then, most of the buildings sat quiet and vacant. The tillable land was rented to someone to grow row crops.

The two families came up with an arrangement to move to the farm, owned by Andy’s grandmother, and take over some of the land and buildings. The first year, Andy lived in a camper and Doug lived in an outbuilding. Andy later bought his aunt’s house on the farm. For a while, the Lanes, Whartons, their five small children, and their business partner and friend, Kathy Neal, were all living in that one home. Then Andy’s grandmother sold Doug some land from the farm to build his own home.

The five partners raised laying hens, meat chickens, rabbits and pigs, intensively grazing and rotating all the animals.

Different direction

Growing pains aside, moving to the farm allowed Doug and Andy to hone their butchering skills.

“We moved here and produced pigs on scale,” Doug said. “We were doing 20-30 pigs a year. Now, we’re butchering every weekend of the winter. Our skill level and institutional knowledge went up. It was boring to do chops, hams and bacon.”

Doug and Andy learned how to make sausages and cured meats. They started holding some classes to teach other people how to do the same.

The farm shifted focus at the end of 2019. Kathy left for another career opportunity in town. She managed the laying hens, so it was a natural time to get out of that side of the business. They stopped doing everything but raising pigs and doing workshops.

Then, the pandemic started. Interest in the workshops grew exponentially.

“COVID was a great shot in the arm,” Doug said. “When the whole meat industry went to its knees, a lot of people wanted to know how to butcher their own pigs.”

In addition to hosting workshops on their farm, the pair travels to other farms to host workshops for other farmers.

guy petting a pig
Doug Wharton scratches some of the pigs he raises at Hand Hewn Farm. The pigs will be killed on farm and used during butchering workshops Wharton and his partner Andy Lane run through the fall and winter. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

How it works

The workshops Andy and Doug offer now is something that would’ve been helpful to them as they got started out in homesteading. The classes attract both do-it-yourselfers, who want to learn the technical side of butchering and “foodies,” who want an immersive culinary adventure for the weekend.

“We’ve had a number of people come to workshops that went home that following weekend and butchered two hogs and had three pounds of waste,” Doug said.

No matter the motivation for taking a workshop, it’s all about the community, Doug said. Killing and butchering animals for a living would be different in the sterile atmosphere of a slaughterhouse, he said. The way they do it, it’s about collaboration and working hands-on with one another.

Day one of the workshop they kill, eviscerate, scald, scrape and prep for the next day. They clean casings to be used for sausages. They prep the offal.

The pigs are killed in the field with their herd mates.

“Pigs don’t have an existential fear of death,” Doug said. “They have an existential fear of being alone.”

Before Doug takes a shot, they read a Wendell Berry poem “For the Hog Killing.” Then they toast the pig’s life, take a shot of bourbon and shoot. Then the rest of the process begins.

On day two, Andy and Doug take out the halves and methodically walk the participants through how to cut it. Those attending the workshop learn the standard American cuts, as well as variations. The goal is to demystify the entire process. Doug said he knows the terminology can be intimidating, especially when the same primal can be used in so many different ways or the same cut can have different names.

“We try to get all the info out there,” he said. “All of it is driven culinarily. This is not subsistence living. This is eating well.”

The last day of the workshop is all about the food. Anything that needs to be salted, seasoned or cured is done that day.

The cost of a workshop at the farm is $600. That includes all meals as well as a goodie bag to take home of pate, sausage, rendered lard and other products the participants made that weekend. Hand Hewn Farm also hosts a charcuterie workshop that just focuses on the meats.

The workshops typically start in the fall and run through the early spring. October to March is their busiest time, Andy said. During the summer is a time to regroup. They’re also trying to change the idea that farming means you need to run yourself into the ground to make a successful business. They’re growing slowly, expanding as they can, trying different things that makes sense.

“We’re not trying to run ourselves ragged,” Andy said.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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