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Washington, Mo. pig farmer Todd Geisert is an innovator – a “pork-ovator,” if you will. His Wonka-esque potato-and-green-bean sausage is a “whole meal on a bun,” as he puts it. His delicious braunschweiger contains little bits of bacon. His “brat burgers” re-configure the backyard grillable into a more easily ‘cued shape. And his self-serve produce-and-meat stand is a testament to the shred of decency humans really do possess. (It’s only once in a very long while, he said, that some pathetic loser tries to steal the money from the cash box welded in place within the produce stand.)
"I try to think outside the box, the pen, and the barn,” Geisert joked.
Area chefs have taken note of Geisert’s antibiotic- and hormone-free pigs, too, naturally raised outdoors with access to sunshine and shelter. Menus at Winslow's Home, Mike Shannon’s Steaks & Seafood, Local Harvest Café, Mosaic Modern Fusion, Veritas Gateway to Food & Wine, and other are restaurants offer dishes that incorporate pork products from his farm. Local Harvest, Maude’s Market, Sappington Farmers’ Market, Whole Foods, and other retailers sell his goodies directly to the consumer, too.
We caught up with Geisert on the occasion of his latest triumph in pork, farm bologna. It’s made from the whole hog, it’s tasty, and it just hit the St. Louis market. And that’s no baloney. Except that it is.
Relish: Your bologna doesn’t have that uniform, pink, Oscar Meyer appearance we’ve grown used to. It actually looks a bit like a cotto salami.
Geisert: It’s old-fashioned bologna. It doesn’t have the Oscar Meyer appearance. That’s because we’re using the whole hog, not just scraps. “Everything other than the bacon and the squeal in it,” we say. Parts of the loin and ham and shoulder are in it. That’s how we make our whole product line, in fact.
R: I like a bologna sandwich with yellow mustard on white bread, preferably eaten on a fishing trip, or a fried bologna sandwich. How do you like to eat it?
G: My thing is leaving it in the refrigerator and pulling a slice out and eating it as I’m running around (laughs).
R: How do you avoid getting attached to the pigs, and thinking of them as pets, like in “Babe”?
G: You don’t give them names, and you’re fine.
R: Do pigs need to roll around in the mud?
G: They will perform better for you if they do. When it gets above 40 degrees, that’s warm for them, and they look for mudholes to keep cool. Pigs don’t sweat. “Sweating like a pig” is a saying that makes no sense.
R: I understand pigs are very smart.
G: Oh, hell yeah. They can figure out how to open the turnbuckles and let themselves out, or how to jump over an electric fence and go from pen to pen.
R: Can boars be belligerent?
G: Yes. They grow tusks, and you’ve got to have your wits about you. You have to watch out for boars when they’re around sows in breeding season, and sows when they got baby pigs with them. Pigs can kill you if you don’t know what you’re doing.
R: Your self-serve farm stand seems really cool.
G: It’s year-round, sunrise-to-sunset. There’s produce, and a fridge with meat and eggs and such in it. It’s located at the edge of the farm, so I can check it several times of day. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people who use it are just fine and dandy, but it’s the other one who screws it up for everyone else. Because of a thief, I can’t collect the money in a coffee can anymore, and now you can’t make change. I tell people if they only have a $20 bill and they bought $16 dollars worth of produce, just take $4 worth next time. The old customers show the new people how it works.
R: It seems, from the list of places carrying your products, that you’re benefiting from all the attention the Slow Food, organic, sustainability-type movements are getting now.
G: People are wanting to know where their food is coming from, and that it’s humanely raised. In fact, the Animal Welfare Institute comes out and makes sure we’re doing things properly so we can sell to Whole Foods, which we do through Niman Ranch.
R: So what’s next?
G: I always keep thinking I’m done, and then I come out with something else. Right now, we’re working on a Polish sausage. We’re close, but not quite ready for market yet.
Food and farm images above courtesy of Curt Dennison Photography.