Farmers find new friends in Pennsylvania hog scrap

Environmental, energy and animal welfare groups unite
with sustainable ag to create new hog options

Pennsylvania farmers with a love for open markets and happy hogs are part of a new coalition in that is resisting further consolidation of pork production in the Keystone state.

Responding to an initiative growing out Philadelphia’s famed White Dog Café, two farm groups have joined the informal campaign. Its immediate goal is to strengthen the ability of the state’s township governments to control corporate-driven factory farm expansion. New sitings of these operations have become highly controversial at the local level in the past year, generating new interest in alternative pork production systems that would keep local family farmers in business.

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The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) is the most prominent farm group involved, giving it an opportunity to share a perspective very different from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which opposes increased local authority in siting factory farms. Conventional ag power brokers want to maintain state-centered regulations where they have strong political influence in the assembly and with current regulators.

"PASA is supportive of any initiative that will make Pennsylvania family farms more economically viable and expand an innovative, more sustainable style of hog production throughout the Commonwealth," says Brian Snyder, PASA’s executive director. "In that the PIG Alliance is focused on these two goals, we are fully on board with this new collaborative effort. In fact, we are proud to represent sustainable farmers in these important discussions and plans."

Bringing in other family farmers is the Pennsylvania National Farmers’ Union (PFU). Its president, Larry Breech, said this summer that proposed legislation dealing with siting procedures for factory farming operations was inadequate to the needs of local communities. He offered several solutions to restore competition in agriculture, enforce social and environmental responsibility and protect family farmers and rural communities. To ensure adequate competition in agricultural markets, PFU recommends a ban on corporate ownership of livestock held more than 14 days prior to slaughter and production contracts that ensure fairness and openness.

Energizing the coalition is Judy Wicks, operator of the White Dog. The Cafe emphasizes high quality, farm fresh ingredients, purchased from local sustainable farmers whenever possible. A June 22 field trip to three of the Café’s producers in Lancaster County was sold out. This tour was organized in conjunction with the Philadelphia Fair Food Project. Fair Food, a program of the White Dog Cafe Foundation, is dedicated to bringing natural and humanely-raised meats to the Philadelphia marketplace and supporting regional, small-scale farmers.

Providing aggressive, grass-roots legal advocacy of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (, which now lists PASA on its homepage thanks to this collaboration. Other members include the SPIRA/GRACE project which targets factory farming, Delaware Riverkeepers Alliance, the Waterkeeper Alliance, Penn Future (a sustainable development and renewable energy non-profit), the Food Routes Network (a national group promoting local food systems) and national animal welfare groups that help farmers produce and market humanely raised livestock.

The coalition provides a chance for members to hear each other and find new areas of support where the goals of sustainable farming, local food systems, humane livestock, sustainable dining, grass-roots democracy, corporate accountability an ecological integrity overlap.

A number of initiatives are under discussion, including a public education campaign to promote buying locally and sustainably raised food, as well as to create a viable market structure for profitable, sustainable pork in the region.

We'll continue to report on this story and on similar coalitions around the country. Other components of the story to tell: a budding relationship with Niman Ranch; and production profiles of hog growers using a sustainable, pasture-based operation.

We'll keep you updated on Pig alliance.

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