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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

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Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg, who writes about "The Rural Life" for the New York Times contemplates the arrival two piglets that he hopes to raise for slaughter and what it all means for his relationship with the land.


CURWOOD: There's lots you can do living out in the country that's off limits to most city folk. Big gardens are one thing, but writer Verlyn Klinkenborg wants to take his connection with the land one step further.

KLINKENBORG: For the past three months I've been thinking about raising pigs. Ask anyone who knows me. Sooner or later the conversation turns to pigs. I have a small shelf full of books whose titles include the words, "pigs" and "successful." I've even sold, as futures, the four quarters of a prospective pig to friends who have decided to humor me.

At this moment in Montgomery County in New York, a sow is pregnant or "in pig," as the pig farmers say, with a litter of piglets from which I hope to take two in July, when they should weigh about 40 pounds apiece. The sow and the boar who bred her are Tamworths, an uncommon, endangered breed. Lean, gingery, bacon types. Good foragers. Good mothers.

What decided me on pigs was meeting a farmer who still raises pigs on pasture. I have a pasture, I remember thinking. What all this means is that I am giving in to the logic of where I live, and the land I live on. A place like this, a very small farm with pasture, garden, woods, and rock, is always asking of me, "What can you do yourself?" I didn't even hear the question at first. All I meant to harvest was lettuce and metaphors and apples in a good year. And of course bushels of horse manure.

But each added layer of complexity -- reseeding a pasture or keeping bees -- points toward other layers of complexity, like pigs, that lie just a short, logical leap away. I have no illusions of attaining self-sufficiency. The only sufficiency I want is sufficiency of connectedness. The feeling that horses, pigs, bees, pasture, garden, and woods intertwine.

The economic argument for raising vegetables and apples and a couple of pigs is small change. But the garden waste and the windfall apples will go to the pigs, as will pasture grasses and hickory nuts and beech mast and some commercial grain. Meanwhile, the pigs will fertilize the pasture and grub out the underbrush at the edge of the woods. In late Autumn, I'll haul the pigs up the road to a local independent slaughterhouse, which has a smokehouse of its own. I don't know what I will think when that happens. Though nearly everyone tries to tell me how it will be.

CURWOOD: Verlyn Klinkenborg lives in Austerlitz, New York. He writes about the rural life for the New York Times.



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