Buffalo may be known for its chicken wings and fish frys, but Western New Yorkers also have an appetite for locally-produced healthy foods. In WBFO’s Farm-to-Table series, we meet entrepreneurs in the region’s growing industry. At a family farm in Darien, a healthcare professional is raising pigs the old-fashioned way.
Pigs get lots of pasture land and wooded areas - to run around and just be pigs - on the Always Something Farm. Owners Michael and Stephanie Parkot started raising small animals on an 1/8 acre in Clarence. And, in 2014, bought an old but larger 42 acre farm, in Darien.
"Once we moved out here and we started getting into some larger animals it turned into, always something escaping, always something breaking, always something running out. And the name just kind of stuck and we just ran with it," Michael Parkot said.
On a walking tour, Parkot says he works full-time as a Physician's Assistant and didn't grow up farming.
"I actually grew up in Snyder. I grew up at Main and Harlem."
Living in Ithaca, several years ago, the Parkots got some chickens to have fresh eggs and one thing led to another. Now, along with pigs and chickens they have some dairy and beef cows and occasionally turkeys. But their main focus is raising heritage breeds of pigs. He says they have a dozen sows.
"And we've actually started working with some of the different pig genetics - cross breeding them back and forth trying to intentionally breed to create a different type of pork depending on what customers are looking for," Parkot said.
He also brought in some breeds used by "factory farms" to see what they would be like raised on pasture land.
"And so far we're finding that it actually has a lot of positive implications for those pigs. So they have darker quality meat. Better fat deposition into the muscle. They're allowed to exercise. So they develop muscle and they develop flavors subsequently with that."
Parkot grows out his pigs several months longer than factory farms do. And they get rotated on different lots of land.
"You wind up with healthier animals. You wind up with less parasite issues. And you allow the land a chance to recover too," Parkot said.
Steve Gedra owner/chef of The Black Sheep, a farm-to-table restaurant on Connecticut Street, in Buffalo, says the way animals are raised makes a difference.
"I think it's really important to the taste and quality of the product that these animals are treated well because if they're stressed and they're not eating well, it's just like anything they're not going to grow correctly, they're not going to have the right fat content, you know, all that kind of stuff," Gedra said.
Most of Parkot's customers are local restaurant chefs. He says they've "been a godsend. Because they're saying it flat out that, 'I'm using this. And this is expensive compared to what you can buy just from a big food distributor or a big meat company. But we're supporting a local family farm.' They're looking for a total package of good quality meat. They're looking for things that are ethically raised," Parkot said.
Michael Dimmer, owner of Marble + Rye on Genesee Street, in Buffalo, says not only is the food quality better - buying local also shortens his restaurant's carbon footprint.
"That's kind of where it started. But then getting to know your farmers. Getting to know the families. Getting to know how they rely on you and you rely on them for the health and wealth of their family and your family as well. The success of our restaurant relies heavily on our farmers," Dimmer said.
At SUNY Buffalo State's Small Business Development Center, its Director Susan McCartney says, farm-to-table businesses are an "amazing economic ecosystem." McCartney says, it's "like the tide that raises all ships."
"It is your best scenario when all involved are local. And it's hard to picture anything more incredible than the ones where the food is produced here, sold locally, purchased by the people who live here and we all keep it together," McCartney said.
Parkot says, when he started, only one other local pig farmer was raising heritage breeds. Now he says, the number has "increased by quite a bit. So when you hear people talk about like, business and things like that, the local farming movement and the number of farms, it's hockey sticking. Like it's accelerating at such a rapid rate, and we're actually having trouble keeping up with that demand," Parkot said.