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Notes From a Farm: Autumn Olive Farms

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Notes From a Farm: Autumn Olive Farms
By Cele and Lynn Seldon | Photos By Kieran Wagner

Hog Heaven

When Clay and Linda Trainum of Autumn Olive Farms in Waynesboro, Virginia, started loaning their hungry goats out to other landowners and farmers to forage their land and reduce overgrown invasive foliage, they had no idea that it would plant the seed for a pork empire. Thanks to those early experiences, the Trainums now produce sought-after heritage breed pigs, and their pork is found on restaurant menus across the southeast and the mid-Atlantic.

After they discovered toxic mold in their North Carolina home and learned their family was suffering from biotoxin illnesses, they returned to the farm where Clay had grown up—in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley—hoping the fresh air would be the key to their recovery.

Linda and Clay Trainum with Sons (From Left) Luke, Logan, and Tyler

In Virginia, they needed work and they needed to eat well. “Proper environment and healthy eating were the ways we were going to heal ourselves,” Clay recalls. “In our attempt to get ourselves well, we decided to try to raise good quality food, because we couldn’t afford organic food.” That’s when the goats morphed from pets to a catalyst for healing the land and body.

Neglected and overrun with scrub, the family farm had stood dormant for years. But, before long, the goats had done what goats do and eaten most of the invasive plants that covered the farm. Soon, the Trainums were leasing their goats for foraging jobs around the state. Not only were the goats providing a healthy revenue stream, but the quality of the lush vegetation they were eating made them even healthier. The Trainums decided to butcher a couple of goats from their herd and discovered that, not only was the meat delicious, it was also one of the healthiest proteins in the world.

The Trainums wondered if the same model would work with pork. Clay says, “We did some research and learned that one of the healthiest meats was pork from outdoor-raised pigs. I read Peter Kaminsky’s book, Pig Perfect—after searching the whole planet and tasting pork everywhere he went, he determined that the Ossabaw pig was the greatest bite of pork he ever had.”

It was during a foraging job at the Frontier Culture Center in Staunton, Virginia, that they saw the Ossabaw pig for the first time. The rest is hog history. In 2010, the Trainums bought three Ossabaw gilts (a young female pig) and basically replicated the terroir of their goat farm, turning it into a pig farm. The animals were generally free to roam the ninety acres of farm, and feed on the same nutrient-packed invasive plants that had nurtured their glorious goats.

Today, Clay and Linda—along with their sons, Logan, Luke, and Tyler—are raising upward of 400 pigs on Autumn Olive Farms. Many of these are coveted Ossabaws, which are descendants of the original breed brought over from Spain in the mid-1500s. Originally taken to Ossabaw Island, twenty miles south of Savannah, this heritage breed is genetically pure, strong, and robust as a result of the inhospitable conditions that originally existed on the island.

“The Ossabaw is the perfect combination of fat and meat,” says Ian Boden, chef and owner of the Shack in Staunton, Virginia. “It’s got nice texture, it’s dense, and it’s got good, tight grain structure.”

A Berkshire

That said, the inherent negative traits of the Ossabaw are that they tend to be standoffish, with an aloof temperament. They are also very slow growers. In an effort to combat those challenges, the Trainums started working with their longtime friends and neighbors, Bill, John, and Crawford Patterson, to feature and market registered Berkshire pigs as well. These pigs are a perfect complement to the Ossabaw. They are fast-growing, have good temperaments and possess a perfect meat-to-fat ratio. The Pattersons’ Berkshire has also become a darling of discriminating chefs who rely on quality, yield, and good value on a weekly basis.

In 2013, the Trainums crossbred Berkshires and Ossabaws, creating their Berkabaw brand, which blends the advantages of the two breeds. Although other farmers have tried crossbreeding these two pigs, there currently aren’t any that are doing it to the scale that Autumn Olive Farms is, with more than one hundred Berkabaws on the farm.

Their pork has been a big hit with chefs. “The attention to detail in how they’re raised produces the best pigs on the East Coast,” says Joe Sparatta, co-owner and chef of Heritage and Southbound in Richmond, Virginia. “They really care for and nurture their animals.”

That level of care and support continues through the off-site slaughtering process. Although the Trainums leave it to the professionals, the northern USDA humane-certified processing facility they use handles their pigs with the same care and professionalism.

Jeremiah Langhorne, chef and co-owner of the Dabney in Washington, DC, says, “The way Clay and his family approach husbandry and raising animals is unique, and it’s not easy, but it yields a far superior product. It’s the best damn pork you can eat.”

With an ever-growing appetite for their pork across the region, the Trainums are working to meet demand. “We’re hoping to gain more property to raise more crops and particular forages to feed our pigs, and to raise more animals,” Clay says.

That should make pork lovers everywhere happier than a pig in—well, you know the rest.

Linda and Clay Trainum