When Pigs Fly: Pork from farms to families
When Pigs Fly was borne out of a desire to ease the hardships being faced by hog producers in South Dakota and Minnesota as a result of COVID-19, and to battle hunger in Colorado.
Frank Stratton, a former Marine who makes his home in Lakewood, Colo., said the effect of COVID on his family was mostly that of scheduling work around children out of school and the daily adjustments of wearing masks. In speaking to his mom, Stratton learned about the hardships faced by hog producers, unable to move market-ready hogs to processors.
Originally from Alexandria, Minn., Stratton grew up in a farming family and community and was compelled to help. He rounded up stock trailers to transport hogs back to Colorado to be processed but ran into problems trying to schedule processing. With processors booked into 2021, the roadblock was a major one. When he told Tony Erickson, owner of AGP Processing in Craig, Colo., his plan, Erickson not only had shackle space but was willing to donate a portion of the processing.
Stratton connected with a Minnesota producer and was on the road three days later, returning with 22 hogs. When he first called the producer, he said it didn’t sound like the producer thought the deal would materialize but was happy to have hogs going to food banks. Though it was far below typical market price, Stratton paid what the producer was asking per head and said he was happy to do so.
The hogs were processed in Craig and donated to Food Bank of the Rockies, who helped with the cost of the processing. With 4,000 pounds of pork donated, he wasn’t planning on returning as the cost had been shouldered by Stratton and his wife, but he hit the road with a second load after a group of friends wanting to help donated the money to cover expenses. That load of hogs was donated to small groups, food banks, churches, and families around the Craig area for them to use to fill their needs.
“Some folks had contacted us who knew people who were unemployed from a company in Hayden, Colo., so we delivered all that meat to five different families from one pig,” Stratton said. “We were just finding any way we could to utilize these pigs the best we could.”
After the second trip, he found a larger trailer and has since made five trips and donated six loads of hogs, averaging 28 hogs per load. His friends, he said, jokingly refer to him as the Porkchop Express. When Pigs Fly has donated about 25,000 pounds of pork to date from two different producers in Minnesota and South Dakota, with another trip scheduled later in July.
Tony Erickson, owner of AGP Processing in Craig said his processing operation is a mom and pop business with only a handful of employees. When Stratton called, he said he was all ears and was willing to help make it happen.
“How many people would actually go out there and do this? Hats off to him, he got something good really going here,” Erickson said.
Erickson said he began processing game for a rancher years ago to ensure there would be presents beneath the Christmas tree. He learned his craft from a friend wiling to show him the ins and outs and opened his doors in 1990, in his current location since 2004.
“Especially for us up here, the economy is shifting things down up here and that’s our bread and butter,” Erickson said. “There’s some people up here that are feeling the effects of it.”
To date, Erickson has processed about 150 head of hogs for When Pigs Fly and pork has been donated to Food Bank of the Rockies, St. Michael’s Catholic Church Meals on Wheels, Inter-Faith Food Bank of Craig, Craig Mormon Church, Master Works, Moffat County High School Fundraiser, Tin Shed Food Bank and South Fellowship Food Bank. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 768-0024.
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Of the approximately 2,270 acres that burned in the April 1, 2021, Medora, N.D., fire, rancher Doug Tescher said all but about 100 acres were U.S. Forest Service land that he utilizes for summer grazing.