We recently had the pleasure of spending a little time with Teresa Van Raay of The Whole Pig – a farm to table, family business operating near Dashwood, in South Huron.
Teresa was delighted to share her story, and is pleased to talk to consumers about the health benefits, variety of pork cuts and various cooking methods every chance she gets. She explained how she no longer sees the animals as only “pigs." Now, The Whole Pig is growing pork – and Van Raay shared a new appreciation for her industry that is "so exciting, and offers a rewarding lifestyle."
The Van Raay's began marketing directly to the consumer about five years ago in response to friends who found their pork “tasty." In fact, they often asked what it was they were eating (assuming either they didn’t consume much pork or the product wasn't such a high quality as the Van Raay’s provide.)
Now The Whole Pig sells their products in Ontario and the remainder of their pork is shipped to a federal plant where it may go to your local store or as far away as Russia and Japan. . She explained how there is a disconnect between farmers and consumers and she's working to narrow the gap by offering product sales direct from the farm.
Consumer demands and expectations are changing significantly so the producers must be flexible too. One quarter of an animal may fill a small fridge freezer so consumers are typically looking for smaller quantities. But Van Raay suggests that now, with the new fast freezing techniques offered by their local butcher (an individual the Van Raays highly respect and passes along some credit to their success), the differences between fresh & frozen are so minimal. She suggests defrosting frozen pork in the fridge or in water, but never in the microwave. She added "there is not a lot of processing with, for example, their chops. They are cut, packed and flash frozen which locks in the quality and nutritional benefits. .
There are many new pork cooking techniques. In earlier generations, pork was to be well-done – no pink in pork as it was feared to carry a disease called trichinosis, and it was much fattier so the cooking techniques melted the fat. But now pork production methods are much improved and the product is much leaner – some cuts are leaner than chicken, and just as versatile for elegant culinary dishes or for simple everyday meals. Pork is also very high in protein!
The Whole Pig animals are antibiotic and hormone free but not certified organic (cost of growing feed this way is prohibitive). These pigs are served corn, soy and whey in a liquid feeding system. Their land is no till and they spread the manure back on to their own fields. Working with an animal nutritionist to balance the diets of the animals is an important aspect of their operations. Van Raay feels it’s really important to give consumers the choice (between organic and non-organic) and finds that most just want to be informed and welcome the conversations.
This operation is run by Teresa and her husband Martin, plus one son and two employees (3 full time, 2 part-time). A part-time bookkeeper is also employed. They have approximately 7000 animals feederto finish on the farm at any one time. They receive f 3 week-old pigs (5-7 Kilo) every 4 weeks. They washand disinfect between the batches. At approximately six months they're at market weight of 220-230 lbs. These pigs are raised for food; not pets. 15000 animals are marketed per year although a small percentage are sold direct from the farm in Dashwood. Most product is marketed through Federal Packers. Canada has a high reputation for pork, exporting approximately 50% world wide.
This farm family gives their animals lots of space as crowding pigs causes stress so they don’t grow or be healthy. The stories about not treating animals well goes against everything a farmer believes in. "Real farmers don’t do things to harm animals – their livelihood depends on them getting to market healthy," says Van Raay. "And bio-security issues dictate no visitors are allowed in the barns." As humans can carry diseases that effect pigs.
Teresa is so passionate about her industry that she serves on the Ontario Pork Board, She feels it is a great opportunity to share information with other producers. She also works with Foodland Ontario, as consumers demand local and identifable “Ontario-grown" products.
Networking with the various associations have given the Van Raay’s many opportunities to provide pork for the customers plates. The people she has met through The Whole Pig are an added bonus – Chef Associations, Chambers of Commerce, and the London Executive Association have all helped her make connections for selling pork and making new friends. . Speaking with contacts through the Chef Association provides great opportunities for her to learn the needs of the chefs and to share cooking techniques.
FarmFoodCare is another resource for information and they host many media events, sharing news on many industry issues. As advocates for pork producers they’re the first ones to call when challenges arise.
Teresa is available to speak to individuals and/or Schools, summer classes or community groups. She would be honoured to share their family farming story.
Pulled pork is one of their most popular products – quick and easy, just defrost in boiling water for 10 minutes. The Whole Pig’s Pork Burgers are 6oz and include 2/3 regular ground pork and 1/3 smoked pork. "Our ground pork, burgers and sausage are gluten free (ingredients: pork meat and spices)," says Van Raay. Try Ground Pork in your recipes or with mixes like Hamburger Helper for a new taste sensation.
"Whether you choose to order a single pkg, quarter, half or the whole pig, the Whole Pig can tailor a package to suit your lifestyle."
Dealing with misinformation about pork, packaging and increases in pork prices – partially due to a shortage of pigs from Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) – a viral disease found in Ontario has been challenging. This disease has no effect on the pork quality and is not a food safety issue. And bio-security standards in Canada have the ability to limit its spread. .
The Whole Pig also carries a few specialty items. For a full list of products visit the website.
Martin & Teresa Van Raay
37871 Dashwood Road
Dashwood, Ontario, Canada
The on-site store opened 1 year ago. Hours 9-4 weekdays or call ahead to set up an appointment.