075 – Clay & Linda Trainum, Autumn Olive Farms
Pig Work. Welcome to Episode 75 and a conversation with folks who aren’t just giving lip service to food raised in a pure, unprocessed manner, but walking the walk by carrying on a respected tradition of raising heritage Ossabaw and Berkshire pigs humanely in a natural, sustainable way. In a setting that wouldn’t have looked unusual hundreds of years ago. Meet Clay and Linda Trainum of Autumn Olive Farms! The Autumn Olive tree and the farm’s namesake is native to Virginia, very edible, and high in lycopene. Pigs and goats happen to love it. When Linda and Clay re-established his father’s land back in 2008 it was covered in it. The solution? Put Boerbok goats to work. Boerbok is a great and healthy meat source in addition to being a terrific lawnmower and the Trainums used this natural brush clearer to not only free up land but also as the very first source of revenue for the farm by selling their clearing services as well as the meat. Resourcefulness at work and a great example of farming ingenuity.
“If you can raise some cows and you can pay your taxes every year, you’re a successful farmer. I don’t accept that.”
The farm’s origins are rooted in a need for a healthier way of living. The Trainum’s house in North Carolina was completely overrun with mold, making every family member sick. Linda started to read up on healthy eating. Her veterinary technician background led her to study more sustainable meat sources. She discovered pigs raised outdoors have the second-highest levels of Vitamin D in the world behind cod liver oil. Then a chance presentation of Ossabaw pigs at the Frontier Culture Museum led the Trainum’s to purchase their first breeding sows.
The farm is a glorious example of natural breeding methods, with entire ecosystems dedicated to the craft. My tour, on the back of an ATV no less, saw me rumbling through pastures of ryegrass as well as pine and oak forest. These are for foraging, and so the pigs can keep cool during humid summers. In the winter months, shelters are moved to sunny areas to capture south-facing light. The pigs move about as they please, even banding together to move 500-pound shelters if it’s not to their liking. Good quality hay grown on-site is harvested for food and bedding. Everything is done naturally. No heat lamps here. Farrowing is all natural as well, which means newborn piglets are more susceptible to nature’s cycles including weather and hungry, sometimes rabid foxes which are becoming more prevalent thanks to global warming.
“I think history is going to judge us harshly…our grandchildren are going to look back and say what was wrong with you all that you so willingly partook of that product raised that way. And it won’t be defensible. It’s not a defensible position. You don’t have to spend much time with pigs to realize there’s a serious responsibility.”
What struck me? There are close neighbors surrounding this farm. If you’ve done any traveling in our region, you’ve smelled an industrial hog farm, probably from miles away. Not so at Autumn Olive where the smell is minimal and the neighbors not only stay on the lookout for wanderers but complain about closing the windows in winter because they can’t hear the pigs. And yes, some of the pigs are pets. Sparkles is official Tour Director. But this is a working farm and understanding that is an important part.
Raising heritage pigs is certainly an honorable method, but also very time consuming, involving more steps as well as a lot more money. Which makes it more expensive. Currently Autumn Olive only sells whole animals to restaurants. And while that can seem a detriment, it’s actually a plus because chefs understand quality and are willing to seek them out and pay for it.
“We told a chef one time, he’s like, do you have pork? Well, do you serve bird? On the menu? The difference between a crow and a quail is a profound difference. Within the breeds of pigs there are profound differences…and flavor profiles and texture and mouth feel and fat composition…muscle fiber length. All of that is there.”
Like any farm, Autumn Olive has seasons and labor you have to do depending on the weather so the pigs can stay happy and healthy. This is a family business, and sons Logan, Luke, and Tyler are committed to continuing the legacy. The day I visited they were headed out for an overnight Maryland delivery. On a heritage pig farm, the work never ends.
“The seasons certainly have a bearing on what we do and how we do it…in the summer months pigs usually eat less…the meat is a little bit different in the warmer weather…it’s kind of a slower pace…and we’re managing issues of clean water and temperature-related things.”
You can find Autumn Olive products all over our region, including places like Threepenny Café and JM Stock Provisions. It’s good stuff people. Forget “The Other White Meat” this pork is colorful with beautiful marbling and an extraordinary flavor. This is pork with TERROIR. You can taste what these pigs have been eating: autumn olive branches, acorns, walnuts, as well as many other naturally-occurring plants on the farm. A true Virginia pork, bred here, on food sources from here.
“Healthy food sells. But delicious really sells.”
How can you be sure the product you’re buying is natural and sustainable? How does Autumn Olive do what they do while making sure the restaurant can offer their product at a fair price point? We talk about it. How did the Trainums meet? It’s the ultimate meet-cute and a story you’ll really enjoy.
This talk is near and dear to my heart, not only because I love pork, but Autumn Olive Farm lies a stone’s throw away from my own family farm in Dooms, Virginia. As a teenager, my grandaddy would drive us out to “The Land” to show us the ground he worked for decades before moving to town to work at Dupont. To be able to revisit this area as a middle-aged woman with her own entrepreneurial spirit? Priceless. Enjoy the ambient sounds of talkative Berkshire pigs at the end of the episode! Then go get you some at several area restaurants in Charlottesville, Richmond, Maryland, and DC. Details on their website. Cheers!
SHOW NOTES – Links to resources talked about during the podcast:
- Nadjeeb Chouaf – Our very own “NaCheese” just placed THIRD IN THE WORLD at the Mondial du Fromage in Paris, becoming the first American to do so. Congratulations Nadjeeb!
- Caleb Warr – Chef Warr has left Tavola for greener pastures on Cape Cod. Are there pastures on Cape Cod? Hmmm. We wish him well, and thank him for being on the podcast!
- Lovefest Tickets! – Brian Wimer has put together an EPIC 2-day festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, with many events leading up to this weekend’s festival. Get your tickets, then come meet me! I’ll be roaming the crowd, gathering audio, pressing the flesh, asking questions, generally being edacious.
- John Hernandez of Mi Terra Farm – This young man is doing his part to teach folks about sustainable, grass-fed beef. Walking the walk when it comes to eating healthy and helping those who can’t afford it.
- Pig Tales – Did you know pigs have personalities? Learn all about eating sustainable pork, and hear the story of a beloved neighborhood pig who could recognize faces and voices. A great read!
- Foodwaze – Do you know where your food comes from? Use this website to learn!
- Help Scotty Recover – My best friend has Stage 3B colon cancer. Bills are piling up. He can’t work. Can you help? Share! Donate! No amount is too small. Thank you and BIG LOVE to everyone who donated and shared the Big Love Bake Sale and Big Love Birthday! Next up? Tee shirts! Look for them soon.
- Subscribe to This Podcast. Stay Edacious! – Come on, after this episode? You know you want to. Subscribers get new episodes instantly, while non-subscribers have to wait a few hours or days depending on the iTunes gods. Never miss a chance to be edacious!
- Subscribe to Edacious News – Never miss a food event in our area! Learn about regional and national food stories so you can stay edacious!
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