Beyond Humane: Raising Pigs to “Express Their Piggyness” at Pastvina Acres

David and Christy Borrowman both grew up in Midwestern farming families, but they were apprehensive about starting a farm of their own. “We didn’t want to just do it the way our dads were doing it,” Christy tells Food Tank.

But while living in Prague, Czech Republic, they began reading about sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices through authors like Michael Pollan and Temple Grandin. Learning about “more natural ways of doing things on the farm,” Christy says, opened their minds to a different kind of farming.

The Borrowmans opened Pastvina Acres Farm in western Missouri, in 2014—after working off farms for 23 years. Pastvina, which means pastureland in Czech, is now an integrated, diverse farming operation anchored by feeder-to-finish hog production. David and Christy focus on going “beyond humane treatment” of their animals and preserving their soil as much as possible.

“High-quality and delicious pork is one-third genetics, one-third diet, and one-third handling,” Christy says. The Borrowmans diligently follow humane treatment protocols and use locally grown feed, but they also focus on simply raising happy animals. Pigs on Pastvina Acres Farm root around in the bushes, eat from the walnut trees, and generally “express their piggy-ness.”

Raising happy pigs also benefits soil health. The Borrowmans use rotational grazing and strive to have something growing on the pastures year-round. This includes a mix of annual and perennial plants, such as a clover/rye cover crop following corn or winter wheat following beans, to help build soil organic matter and nutrients.

“We want to leave the soil in a better state than when we found it,” David explains.

A healthy and diversified farm like Pastvina is a constant balancing act. David continually re-examines how he’s doing things on the farm to find ways to improve or innovate, while Christy focuses on prioritization and project management. Christy also works full-time off the farm, so the balancing act includes spending quality time with their young children.

“I can’t do a traditional farm where I work 16-hour days,” David says, “and we don’t want to.”

A critical piece of the puzzle has been raising pigs for Niman Ranch, a network of more than 750 small U.S. family farmers and ranchers. Niman Ranch farmers uphold high standards of sustainable and humane farming in exchange for a guaranteed market for their pork products. They are also able to own their pigs, which is rare in traditional production models. As passionately independent producers, this is an ideal partnership for David and Christy’s mission.

“Niman was really willing to embrace younger farmers who truly wanted to learn more,” David says.

He immediately immersed himself in the Niman Ranch community in 2018, talking with fellow farmers, signing up for events, and connecting with resources to continue to improve practices. Niman Ranch works closely with companies, restaurants, and grocery stores to ensure farmers are supported throughout the supply chain, which can be hard to come by in the hog farming industry, according to David. The company also helps communicate to consumers that buying Niman Ranch pork directly supports family farmers such as the Borrowmans.

“To be involved with a company that really puts people and relationships ahead of profit is really satisfying…from the ground up, it’s part of their culture,” David says.

Christy and David themselves are passionate about good food and quality products. They often host consumers on the farm to help educate their community about sustainable food production. They hope these partnerships and conversations will create a farm model that can be copied on small farms across America. A central part of their mission at Pastvina Acres is to help reinvigorate the rural communities they were raised in.

“Five generations of farmers before me have put farming in my blood,” David says. “There is honor in physical work. I believe feeding people is a noble occupation.”

Photo courtesy of Vince and Holly Crawford

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