Around 8 months old, Kevin Bacon is approaching 300 pounds, which means the Berkshire cross pig’s time enjoying acorns, oak tree shade, and the leisurely life alongside a creek in the Los Alamos Valley will soon come to a close. In the next few weeks, he’ll be butchered (likely in front of a class), and his body will either be roasted for a special event, sold to a handful of restaurants, or distributed directly to individual customers who subscribe to regular pork packages.
That’s the basic protocol for the Valley Piggery, a boutique, sustainably minded, and education-focused company run by Jake O. Francis. Looking more movie star (think Jared Leto crossed with Johnny Depp) than pig farmer, Francis hails from outside of Seattle but spent time at restaurants in Brooklyn and Manhattan before falling for pigs at a farm and restaurant in Athens, Georgia. “I realized that I wanted a more persistent and consistent connection to my food,” said Francis, who then started his own boutique pig company called Pork Chop Hill.
When his girlfriend, Amy Gard’ner, was offered a horticultural job in Lompoc, Francis came along, working for Dey Dey’s before launching Valley Piggery in July 2013. “I team with ranchers to use underutilized portions of their land,” said Francis, who currently works with one ranch in Los Alamos and one in Los Olivos, with about 15 total pigs at any one time. Unlike traditional pig farmers, whose skill sets and interests typically just involve raising animals, Francis fills a unique niche, willing to teach others, cater events big and small, work with other chefs, and run a community-supported agriculture, or CSA, program. “It’s kind of A to Z,” he explained.
Interest steadily grows, with 240 subscribers to the CSA (though only the first dozen or so orders can be fulfilled by the two pigs he harvests every month) and regular deliveries going to Industrial Eats in Buellton, Bacon & Brine in Solvang, SY Kitchen in Santa Ynez, and the Patagonia commissary in Ventura. He’ll also roast a whole pig for about $1,700 or cater a full menu for roughly $55 to $65 per person, depending on where and how many people. The next opportunity to see Francis in action is this Friday, May 22, 5-8 p.m., at Industrial Eats (181 Industrial Wy., Buellton), where he’ll host a pig butchery workshop alongside Jeff Olsson of Industrial Eats and New West Catering. Later this summer, Francis will host a Fourth of July Pig Roast at the Refugio Ranch tasting room at 4:30 p.m. in Los Olivos, where a full menu comes for $20 per plate.
See valleypiggery.com for more info and dates.