Meet Craig and Amy Good, Kansas Pig Farmers.
Craig and Amy have been raising hogs, cattle, and growing crops on their land for decades. Located near Manhattan, Kansas (aka “The Little Apple”), Craig and Amy have developed a niche market that sells high-quality pork to restaurants from San Francisco to the Big Apple and everywhere in-between.
From the moment Amy invited me into their home I knew I was going to be photographing kind, genuine, and passionate people. After all, their last name was Good, and I briefly recall some radio show that was talking about how a last name can influence a person’s personality.
We chatted like old friends for the better part of a half hour with the conversation ranging anywhere from KSU’s excellent football season and why Bill Snyder is one of the best coaches in the game to how Craig and Amy met and have been married for over 30 years.
A rare breed
We grabbed our boots and jackets and headed off towards the nearby hog barns. Soon Craig’s footsteps quickened and his enthusiasm grew as we walked closer and closer to the open hoop barns and large pens that housed his hogs. Most pig operations in the United States raise some variation of a cross between Yorkshires, Hampshires, or Landraces. This cross is used because Landraces and Yorkshires make great sows (mothers), and Hampshires are generally known for having great meat.
Craig chose to use a different breed. He stops and points to a brown and black-spotted sow and mentions how she is a very ancient breed and how the breed produces such great meat and are great sows as well. He also raises quite a few Durocs, a once-dominant breed that is starting to make a comeback in popularity.
That enthusiasm is now in full display, and he offers a gentle smile towards the sow nursing her piglets as we continue to walk through the farm.
"We take pride in taking good care of our animals"
Soon we reach a large, open-sided hoop barn and the smell of clean, fresh straw hits my nose and brings back memories of winters waiting for newborn lambs when I was a member of the Fallbrook 4-H club. As our feet touch down in this barn young pigs swarm us. The scene was akin to watching a little-league soccer game with a swarm of children huddling around a ball as it slowly progresses from one end of the field to another. We were the coveted soccer ball.
The pigs aren’t angry; they’re just being curious. However, this simple observation told me all I needed to know about how Craig and Amy treat their pigs.
They treat their pigs well.
I learned one thing about growing up with horses and other animals; livestock will treat you how you deserve to be treated. If you are cruel to your animals, they will show it. Conversely, if you treat animals well they will reciprocate that too. This is common sense for the Good family.
Craig says, “If we take care of our animals, it ensures that they’re going to be healthy, they’re going to be comfortable, and if we take care of them they are going to take care of us. We take pride in taking good care of our animals”.
I didn't see a single sick pig while I was at the Good farm, which is always great to see. But one thing I learned through a life of raising livestock, and my bachelor's degree that includes an emphasis in animal science, is that animals can occasionally get sick.
The topic of antibiotics is definitely one with many sides.
As a father, I can understand the concerns of parents who just want to feed a healthy meal to their children. As an educated agriculturist, I know what the scientific research says in regards to how antibiotics are regulated by the federal government to guarantee none of it ends up in the food supply.
However, I am MORE interested in knowing how our farmers and ranchers are using antibiotics in their livestock.
Craig and Amy state, "We do not use antibiotics in the regular feeding of our pigs and cattle...and if we do, we use them as sparingly as possible and only when an animal is sick."
The couple continued to talk about how routine observation was a huge part of their daily chores, and part of that includes watching and monitoring the health of their pigs. If a pig is sick and isn't doing a good job combatting the infection naturally, they will administer the antibiotics to the pigs.
They add, it is "Just like what you would do if you were sick and went to the doctor." In short, antibiotics are the last resort and only used to improve the health and comfort of their hogs.
Craig and Amy say they strictly adhere to the federal guidelines on something called a "withdrawal" period. A withdrawal period is the amount of time that must pass before an animal that has been given antibiotics can be sold for food. This is a federal mandate that has come about from copious amounts of research testing meat to guarantee there are zero traces of antibiotics.
Since Craig and Amy also sell to a niche restaurant market, any hogs that have been given antibiotics are sorted out of the rest of the herd and sold separately once they get healthy and the withdrawal time has passed.
If you would like to read more on this topic from a scholarly source, feel free to check this article by the Meat Institute.
"It begins with us"
As I begin to photograph Craig and Amy, their watchful eyes are always evaluating every hog in the herd to make sure every pig is healthy.
“We know that [our food] is only as good as the weakest link in the whole food chain…and that starts with us.”
The food on our tables and in our restaurants starts with a farmer like Craig and Amy. That makes me very confident.
After the sun had set and all my photography gear was packed, Craig and I chatted a little longer about food and Wildcat football. With a slight smile on his face, Craig mentioned that Amy had something for me to take home. Amy walks out of the front door grinning and presents me with a packaged pork chop from their very own farm. This wasn’t just any gift. This was a gesture that represented decades of hard work and thoughtful farming.
I thanked Craig and Amy for their time and began driving home as I reflected on the good people I just met. They were people that I wish I had already known for ages and that I hope to run into again.
Then I cooked pork chops for my wife and son.
Yes, they were delicious.
This article first appeared at www.scottstebner.com
Special thanks to Kim Hofman (www.redcowphoto.com) for assisting for this shoot.
Scott Stebner is a father, husband, and photographer who creates high-end photographs of farmers and ranchers. He received his bachelor's degree in agricultural sciences and a teaching credential from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is currently working on his master's degree in agricultural communications from Kansas State University.