– By Lindsay Strong –
The tree lined driveway leading up to the homestead of Beatty Stone Farms sets the scene for the loving and honest work happening just beyond the branches. The property is delightfully Minnesotan, scattered with big reaching trees, wildflowers, and brightly colored toys ensuring passersby that a young family grows there. All around the property is evidence of a life carefully cultivated, garden spaces, chickens roaming, and the bright blonde of little girls bouncing amongst the sprouting greenery. The family home has a big front porch that faces pastureland that, once used to grow only alfalfa, now contains a plethora of life, including the docile and lovely Mangalitsa pigs the Dropps family raises.
The Mangalitsa is a heritage breed that arrived stateside by way of Hungary only a decade ago. According to the farm’s website, these pigs were nearly extinct in the early 1990s and because of dedicated farmers who aimed to reinvigorate the breed known for “its amazing curing qualities, creamy whippable fat, and deep red marbled meat.” Olivia and Jim Dropps wanted to join in the conservation efforts and sustainably raise animals that can provide a return to locally sourced food that so many Americans search for. Because of their build, the Mangalitsa is best suited to live and grow outside year round, making them perfect for the range of Minnesota seasons. This kind of careful growth quietly pushes against the large factory farms that rush the process in order to produce a market product that is low quality in life for the animal and for the people who consume them. Even just walking onto the property, it is clear that this family hopes to offer the market a different option altogether. The couples’ motivations are clear, “We want to raise happy, healthy animals because they deserve it, they make a pretty major sacrifice to provide for us. Plus, happy, healthy animals taste better.”
Beatty Stone Farms aims to provide a life for their pigs that is genuinely happy, giving them the highest quality food and love possible. Many of their animals are named and clearly treated with a lot of respect. Upon entering the pen, the curious pigs sauntered up to us for back rubs and to use our legs as scratching posts. It is obvious that this beautiful little farm offers their pigs a life that probably resembles hog heaven (pardon the pun). Set up in the pasture in front of their home are large pens their pigs move through based on the growth of vegetation. Because pigs instinctually root in the ground for food, Jim and Olivia deliberately and carefully provide as much of this as possible. Teeming with leaves from various root vegetables and leafy greens, these pens provide an opportunity for these well-loved Mangalitsas to be, well, pigs. Each season, these wiry-haired and jovial pigs are moved to a new section of pen, allowing the previous digging grounds to return to nature. For Jim and Olivia, nutrition is serious business.
Aside from providing a healthy lifestyle for their pigs, which according to Jim is obvious, this way of raising their animals also impacts the meat. By giving their animals access to high quality nutrition, they keep healthy animals that will go on after a 12- to 18-month-long growing period to provide a beautiful meat and fat that is sought after by chefs, is high in essential Omega fats, and is a genuinely tasty and quality product. Clearly, Jim and Olivia spend a lot of time working toward creating a sustainable life, experimenting with growing their own vegetables and greens for their Mangalitsas and plan to continue expanding what they can to do so. The couple excitedly explained their little plots of land dedicated to growing as much produce for their pigs as they can and shared their detailed plans to do even more. The hope for Beatty Stone Farms is to create as much of a “closed loop” as they can, planning on apple orchards for the fall and utilizing the already grown maple trees to provide new and different flavors for the pigs as well as the people who will go on to consume them later. They even raise bees to encourage pollination as these projects continue to grow. Jim and Olivia are passionate about creating a system that diverges from the environmentally harmful and irresponsible conventional methods of raising animals for food. Undoubtedly, it requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but it is done with joy. Looking out toward her pigs and the world she and her husband are building for them, Olivia lovingly remarks, “I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.”
The true heart of the operation lies in a genuine curiosity and a sense of true Minnesotan optimism. To put it simply, Jim and Olivia want to do as much as they can to promote the need for change in the agricultural system. They write, “If we had to sum up our little farm in one sentence, it would be a question. How can we produce the highest quality, best tasting meat in the most sustainable way? That has been our guiding principle and so far it has been a delicious adventure.”