Zachariah Jones has been doing the slop rounds since he was just a sprout of a boy, barely big enough to hold down the pig buckets in the back of his father’s red truck.
Now in his mid-eighties, and with roads named after him, he tells every greenhorn he meets: “I’ve been a farmer on this Island for 80 years. And that’s not counting the first five years of my life, when all I did was suck my shirt and hang from my mother’s apron strings.” Most young farmers don’t know whether to laugh or not when Zachariah says that. The scared or confused look on their faces always lifts the corners of Zachariah’s mouth.
He’s a burl of a man who happens to be moving slower these days, Zachariah has seen it all come, and he’s watched it all go. It’s worth the price of a beer at the pub to sit next to him and listen. “Nothing’s new under the sun,” he says. “School gardens? Used to be good common sense, that’s all. And every neighbor grew something. They hunted, fished and put-up. It was a matter of pride, sure. But it was necessary because you never knew when The Government, or The Stock Market, was going to break your back. ‘Better break your own back,’ my father taught me. And grow something to eat. Sell it if you have to. Everyone eats—food is a good investment. Think about it.”
Zachariah doesn’t bother with what books you’ve read or what jargon you use: Locavore, Slow Food, Farm to School, Farm to Table; he doesn’t care if you are honoring a diet, a definition, or a fad; or if you grow food in the name of your Lord or in the name of the environment, or for freedom. Just don’t call it “A Movement.” He hates that phrase. That’s when he’ll get up, leave you to drink alone, and figure out why for yourself.
“Just wait till you get on the other side of old…” he shouts at his pigs on the farm. They’ve heard it all before and reply in kind, with resounding snorts and demanding grunts. And then Zachariah stands before them, holding a bucket of slop. It’s filled from the day’s pickup: trimmings from the grocer’s produce aisle, out-of-date dairy, plate scrapings from a few choice restaurants, stale donuts and spent brewer’s grains. His pigs make such a noisy squealing fuss that naive ears would think they were hearing animal abuse from a mile away. But to the contrary. This is the only time Zachariah has his herd’s undivided attention, because after that slop hits the trough they don’t pay him anymore mind. Shoving, biting, snorting, and relieving, they scarf down things like slimy greens, brown bananas, past due cream cheese and day old apple fritters. “What pigs,” he murmurs, shaking his head, mesmerized - leaning on the fence, like he’s done nearly every day of his long and blessed life.
A cast-off orange rolls down into a hollow of the pen where a sow steps on it, shoving it deeper into the mud. Pigs don’t like citrus, or onions for that matter. “But,” as Zachariah says “they’re greedy for damn near everything else people waste and even get picky, if fed too much stale bread after eating leftover whipped cream, butter, and fancy cheese slops from those big fancy catered weddings.” But he also knows all that milky fat makes for some tasty pork loins, chops, butts and shoulders.
As the feeding frenzy dies down, Zachariah affirms what he already believes: “The earth is round.” Then turning his back to the pigs, he’s on to his next chore. The ladies of the hen house are waiting.
Looking for local pork and more wherever you are? Try the Eat Well Guide
If you're a small family farmer or backyard grower raising meat, sign up for the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network. The listserv is free. It's a community of knowledge, common wisdoms, and host to an archive of webinars and resources.
For legal support regarding zoning, distribution, regulations and policy for small family farmers and backyard growers: The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund