it has taken a few months but scott and i finally managed to schedule a visit to eickman’s processing company to capture images for hasselmann family farm’s website. for a number of years scott has been using eickman’s exclusively to process his pasture-raised beef and heritage pork. hasselmann family farm is animal welfare approved and in order to qualify and maintain that status, scott needed to find a processor that held the same certification, which eickman’s does. but as a small scale farmer dedicated to bringing the best possible product to his customers, it was just as much about finding a company that showed that same dedication (and family history) to finish his products.
just after 7 a.m. i pulled into the driveway at the farm. the previous evening scott and his part-time farm hand had isolated three hogs that were scheduled for processing; a nearly 600 lb sow that was no longer giving productive litters and had begun killing some of the farm’s chickens, and two small tamworths (technically f1 hybrids – from a purebred tamworth sow and a purebred berkshire boar – but both had acquired the appearance of a tamworth), one ordered for a hog roast, the other likely bound for the bristol in chicago. i had planned to capture some images around the farm as scott completed the morning chores before loading the hogs in a trailer for transport. (these hogs were not the hogs that we would see being cut at processing. like all meat, hogs need time to age and certain cuts need extra time for smoking, so the hogs we would see being cut had been delivered to eickman’s on a prior trip.) it was a rainy morning so we moved inside for a breakfast of farm fresh eggs, sausage and coffee. we talked a bit about scott’s previous market day where he was greeted by potential new customers’ complaints about his prices in comparison to those of whole foods market. since no one knows hasselmann family farm like scott hasselmann, he is always willing to take the time to explain his product and how it’s raised. nevertheless, those comments are a punch in the stomach to a small scale farmer like scott. (our discussion about the global food economy continued periodically throughout the day when we stopped at a culver’s to grab a late lunch and at a neighbor’s farm to get a gallon of raw milk.) after breakfast, scott’s father had come to help load the hogs. by now we had realized that we would be one hog light, as one of the young tamworths had managed his way out of the holding pen in the barn and back around to pasture sometime during the night. since scott makes a trip to eickman’s nearly every week, the decision was made to take the escape artist on a subsequent visit. the loading went smoothly to the surprise of everyone and we were soon on the way to seward.
as we arrived at eickman’s we pulled in just behind another local (wisconsin) farmer unloading a small number of cows. we waited as the animals were gently coaxed from the trailer and into the holding pens before scott could back his trailer in for unloading. a surprisingly friendly man shared pleasantries and laughs with scott before entering the trailer and giving the sow a few open hand smacks on the rear. both hogs were treated gently and moved into holding pens with other pigs, water and daylight. there they would be tattooed for identification and scheduled for the trip to the kill floor. i was offered the opportunity to see the entire process but we had a short window in which to work and i decided to reserve this experience for another trip.
once inside, we built our set in an open room that appeared to be used primarily for the packaging of already prepared cuts. i was introduced to a number of staff, including tom eickman, the third generation day-to-day operations manager and jamie, the 20+ year veteran that would be breaking down the cuts of the hasselmann pork. in his two decades with the company, jamie has performed work in nearly every aspect of the business, beginning with the kill floor. these days his primary role is that of butchering hogs. if you purchase pork from hasselmann family farm there is a 9 in 10 chance that jamie is the man who prepared the cut. after we planned which cuts we would be taking images of, jamie lifted down one of the two halves of hog hanging next to his station. donning hair nets, we joined him and i photographed as he sawed and knifed through the pork. as the cuts were ready we moved them to our set where jamie expertly advised us on the best angle to showcase the most appealing qualities of each particular piece of pork. a few short hours later we had shot more than 20 different pieces of pork and hundreds of images during cutting. we packed up my gear and some of scott’s products (the geneva market was a few days away and scott has been out of stock of many of his best sellers) and were on our way back to the farm.
although scott had commissioned the work from me, the experiences of the day left me thanking him. it was a rewarding day in so many ways. i was able to do something i love and experience something new about my local food economy. but the most enjoyable aspect of the day was the opportunity to obtain a better understanding of what drives this particular farmer’s passion. i already knew that the products that come from his farm are far more flavorful than their supermarket counterparts, which alone, is reason enough to buy them. but knowing scott as a person and seeing the similarities in our respective businesses and in our life philosophies is what will make me a life long customer. i realize that we can’t all be customers of hasselmann family farm. nor should we. but we can and should all find our local farmers and make a connection with them. i know i am not the only person saying this these days, but many voices speak louder than one.