YKer Acres Supplies Restaurants With Purer Pork
From their YKer Acres farm, Sara and Matt Weik provide pasture-raised pork to Minnesota restaurants.
If Matt Weik tells you your house is a pigsty, you can take it as a compliment. The Wrenshall, Minnesota pig farmer believes that happy pigs make for good meat, and good meat makes for happy customers. While there’s always tension between PETA-style animal rights activists and the free-range crowd (happy lives or not, even free-range animals are eventually killed), Minnesota meat eaters are showing increasing interest in the way animals are raised.
“Pigs are a very sociable animal,” Weik says. “They have a similar endocrine system to us. You can ruin meat with stress.”
Weik says typical factory farming conditions are so crammed it would be like a human living his or her life on a packed subway car. In contrast, his heritage breed hogs have more than 1,000 square feet to roam, access to dirt or frozen ground, and plenty of legumes to snack on. Weik says beyond issues of conscience, this treatment makes for superior-tasting pork.
“That’s our strongest selling point, especially with publicity in the meat industry,” Weik says. “There’s times when it’s 20 below, but they generally are pretty excited (to be outside).”
Weik has been around animals nearly his whole life. He spent summers as a kid working on a hog farm with his uncles in Iowa, and later raised sled dogs as a professional musher. But
Tansy, a red wattle sow, with her litter of 10 piglets.
YKer Acres actually started with his son Josey, who wanted to earn some extra money when he was 12 or 13. Some parents would have encouraged their kid to babysit, but the Weiks have always lived life a little differently.
“He wanted to make more money so we bought him 12 feeder pigs and he sold them as pork shares,” Weik says. “I had a lot of people ask me for our product.”
When Mike Phillips of the Red Table Meat Co. in Minneapolis asked Weik to supply 10 pigs a month for him, things got rolling. YKer Acres, with its Large Black, Red Wattle and Tamworth breeds, later expanded to numerous restaurants, including Duluth’s Lake Avenue Bar and Restaurant, Beaner’s Central, and the Northern Waters Smokehaus, and also sells retail at the Whole Foods Co-op and via pork shares. Even though the farm turns 1 year old in May, Weik says he’s produced 5,000 pounds of pork in a month. That number is only set to increase.
Weik says he thinks the sustainable movement is far more than a current trend. Because consumers are looking for better food, he says, companies are responding.
“In the last week McDonald's, Costco, Chipotle and Target' all committed to buying antibiotic-free and non-confinement, different levels of cruelty-free animals,” Weik says. “It’s because people are understanding the difference between the garbage we’ve been told is food and … what real food tastes like.”
His wife and co-owner Sara agrees. Her previous career was as a doula, helping mothers have a more natural childbirth in a field that has become increasingly dominated by doctors, hospitals and C-sections. She says giving pigs plenty of good food and space to roam is an issue of animal welfare.
With room to wander at YKer Acres, this red wattle pig forages for peas and barley.
“People need to really realize their potential and the choices they have in their food,” Sara says. Of all the animals to really concentrate on and to be concerned about treatment of is the pig, she says, "because they are so intelligent. We vote with our forks three times a day.”
Weik says the business is profitable, but he keeps plowing money right back into growing it further. He does all of his own delivery driving to stay connected to customers and spends handsomely on fencing, new pigs, and other improvements to the property. While he’d like to hire out help to meet demand, he says it’s a question of finding the right fit. At this point, he and Sara are mostly doing the work. Changing the world, Weik says, is a long-term process.
“When I’m out in knee-deep mud and sh*t and its 30 degrees and raining sideways, you only do that for passion,” Weik says. “It’s not about how wealthy you can be, it’s about what your input into this world is going to be.”
Robert Lillegard is a freelance food and travel writer and the former restaurant writer for Duluth~Superior Magazine. His food writing has appeared in the New York Times and other national publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.