First generation farmers are somewhat of a rarity these days due to rising costs of land and production and a culture that’s gravitating towards a more urban way of life. According to the USDA, over half of America’s existing farmers will retire in the next decade, leaving consumers who prefer the taste, quality and ethics of sustainably, locally produced foods in a slow foods deficit. Galen Iverstine of Iverstine Farms in Kentwood, Louisiana, is a young, new farmer that has embraced the challenges of developing a new farm to bring consumers local beef and pork raised in an environmentally conscious way.
“For me, the desire to farm came out of wanting to have conviction associated with my profession,” Iverstine says. “I come from a long line of hard workers and grew up around manual labor and machinery. With a desire and physical ability, I asked the question, ‘Why not me?’ I dove in headfirst. Making [farming] about something bigger — healing top soil, feeding families, being part of a local food economy — makes it more of a mission rather than an occupation.”
Established in 2009, Iverstine Farms rests on 65 acres of pastureland. Throughout the years, Galen has acquired an additional 60 acres, including 20 acres of hardwood forests that separates two large rolling pastures. The forested area is part of what makes Galen’s operation so unique in that he forages his heritage pigs among the trees, allowing the omnivorous livestock to root through the soil and debris to find invertebrates, roots and other edibles. This style of raising pigs is similar to how pigs have been raised in Europe for centuries and allows for a unique, complex and flavorful pork product.
“Most of [the pigs] we raise are Berkshire pigs,” he says. “By raising [pigs] in the forested areas, we are able to use them to keep underbrush down, and allow our more desirable trees to thrive. Every root, grub, shrub, grass and bug adds to the complexity of the taste in the fat of the hog. The fat is where the flavor is.”
Iverstine raises his cattle with the same goal of producing quality, tasteful beef. Everyday, he and his assistant on the farm rotate the cattle to an adjacent paddock within the pasture.
“Most of our cattle are half Brangus, half Angus calves,” says Galen. “I am trying to get back to some original grass-based genetics, and get away from breeds that have been bred to adapt and grow in the feedlot environment.”
This year, Iverstine’s father will join the farm, allowing Galen to offer sustainably raised chickens and turkeys, both of which he has experience raising in the past. The farm-raised poultry will add to Iverstine Farms’ repertoire of consciously produced meats, allowing Galen reach a wider audience.
“We believe connecting the customer with the farmer adds to people's understanding of the complexities our local food system,” Iverstine says. “By connecting directly with consumers, they are able to become more aware of where their food comes from. Consumers begin to realize that cheap food has its costs. By putting a face with their food, they realize that every dollar they spend on food becomes more important in our local food system. By giving them the information, they can become a more informed consumer and make the best decision they can with their food dollars.”
Click here to visit Iverstine Family Farms' WebShop on IndiePlate.
Tyler F. Thigpen is a wetland scientist, a farm to table columnist, and co-coordinator of Pig and Plough Suppers (https://www.facebook.com/PigandPlough), a slow foods dinner series celebrating our Louisiana foodways by promoting chef collaborations that feature foods grown and raised in south Louisiana.