I’ve been meaning to visit Humble By Nature farm for absolutely ages but I just never seemed to find the right time – being in the Wye Valley, it always seemed a little too far away for a quick visit. Well, I finally made it thanks to a recent press trip with porc.wales, and it was the perfect setting for learning all about the pig farming industry in Wales.
If you’ve never heard of Humble By Nature, it’s essentially an 118 acre farm owned by TV’s Kate Humble. Its aim is to demonstrate that diversification can help keep small-scale farming afloat in modern times. In this spirit, it runs classes in things like charcuterie and chicken-keeping, houses the UK’s first ever aquaponics solar greenhouse, has a farm shop on site selling loads of locally made produce, and even has it’s own holiday accommodation. It really is an idyllic little place.
We arrived at the farm for an early 9am start, to a welcome cup of hot coffee and a home-made chocolate brownie – my kinda breakfast. Next, we heard from Mel from Hybu Cig Cymru who told us all about porc.wales – a new website which aims to showcase the pork industry in Wales through the medium of recipes, info about cuts and nutrition, and interviews with chefs, farmers and butchers. A database of pork producers from across the country also means that consumers can find their local suppliers.
The rationale behind the website is simple; we consume a massive amount of pork in Wales, but such a small percentage of it is actually reared here – most of it is shipped in from the EU. The problems with this are many; pigs reared in the EU are often subject to lower welfare standards than in the UK, there is an environmental cost that comes with transporting produce over thousands of miles, and it deprives our farmers, and damages our local economy. The porc.wales website therefore hopes to empower consumers to source their pork more locally and in doing so, combat all of the above.
Armed with this information, we set about learning more about the actual pigs themselves. Generally, there are more rare-breed pigs being farmed in Wales. The herd size is also far smaller than in England, suggesting they are mostly reared on small-scale, family farms; this is reflected in the Humble By Nature set up. They keep three breeding sows – one Welsh, one Oxford Sandy & Black, and one Berkshire. They’re kept on open pasture, with arks for them to shelter in when the weather is wet, but they also have access to another indoor building, bedded with straw for the colder months.
As anyone who regularly reads my blog knows, I disagree with eating meat for every meal for a whole variety of reasons, and I take particular issue with eating cheaply produced, intensively farmed meat from animals who have a miserable life. Having toured Humble By Nature with ‘Farmer Tim’ and seen the pigs in their environment, it’s clear that they have a lovely life and a high standard of care – I would feel totally happy eating pork from these pigs as the centrepiece of my weekly roast.
Back indoors, we spent the rest of the morning with Ruth Waddington from Native Breeds, learning how to prepare and cook traditional pork faggots using belly, leg and liver from one of the pigs reared on the farm. The fabulous Liz from Forage Fine Foods also taught us all about the herbs and botanicals growing in our hedgerows that most of us don’t think twice about, but should be incorporating in to our cooking – things like crab apples, damsons, and acorns. These were used to season our faggots as they would form part of the pigs’ diet too and so complimented the meat perfectly. If you’re interested in foraging, or charcuterie and home butchery, definitely make sure you check out the classes available from both Liz and Ruth on their websites.
We finished the session by tucking in to the fruits of our labour, accompanied by some cider from the farm (also available in the on-site farm shop). It was such an enjoyable morning, chatting with like-minded people with a genuine interest in animal welfare and good food, and if you fancy having a go at the faggots we made, I’ll be sharing the recipe in my next post!