With Plowshares Community Farm, Eva Teague is in hog heaven
The farmers at the Boulder Farmers' Market, which returns today from 4 to 8 p.m., take root in unexpected places. Although some come from generations of farmers, others were blown onto the land by the high hippie winds of the 1960s or the current foodie mantras of local and organic. There are farmers here who were once engineers, or who retired from the corporate world because they wanted the feel of earth between their fingers.
Hog heaven: Eva Teague and Mo McKenna.
Eva Teague, who started her Plowshares Community Farm a couple of years ago, sells thick-cut pork chops at her farmers' market stand, along with roasts, sausage and bacon. She spent a large chunk of her childhood in Cairo, where her parents worked with the Coptic Orthodox Church, and attended a British school with "oil kids and diplomat kids." She was, Teague says, "very confused about my culture."
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"I was this little blonde, white girl -- and everyone thinks they're going to pinch your cheeks, take barrettes out of their hair and put them in yours, give you all the candy in their pockets," she recalls. "It was really strange. We were walking along one day and I saw pictures of my baby sister that had become a calendar. I just wanted to be in America."
In Egypt, the family found imitations of Western food chains with names like Wimpys and Burger Queen, and her mother bought most of their food at the souk, Teague recalls: "I didn't realize the chickens we were seeing were the ones we ate. I guess they cut off their heads right there. I saw half a cow hanging up. Mom used to make a point of buying meat with no flies on it until she saw a vendor with a can spraying that meat." Teague's mother felt that milk was important for her children, but the powdered milk available was so unpleasant that the family ate ice cream
The family returned to the States when Teague was ten. She graduated from high school and college, and went to the University of Connecticut as a graduate student in English, studying African-American literature and eco-criticism. Reading Wendell Berry and other, older farm narratives, she realized, "That's what I wanted to be doing, working outside, growing food. I didn't know what that would really be like and what would make it possible." But she was becoming "progressively more miserable" and after three years, she quit graduate school and moved to Denver without any clear idea of what she'd do next.
Eventually she wound up as an intern at Cure Farm. Anne Cure, Teague says, "is a really great businesswoman; she gave me hope that I could run a farm as a business." Teague then worked for Red Wagon Farm for three years, but "after the first year, I wanted a side project to make more money and have something of my own." She decided to start with pigs -- heritage Berkshire pork -- "because pigs are, first of all, delicious and I knew what to do with pigs. I had dealt with pastured pigs when I worked with Anne. They are smart. They have this reputation for always wanting to get out, but if they're in a good space and they're happy and can root, they don't want to get out. I just jumped in."
But there were things she didn't know. "The first time we ran them for processing two years ago, I was shaking. We wanted it to be the most peaceful load-up process possible, but getting a 250-pound pig into a trailer is hard. That first processing day was so horrible in so many ways. We'd borrowed a rickety trailer. We had people helping, people chasing pigs around. The pigs were so stressed-out. I thought, Never again.
"Now we set up the trailer ahead of time so they can get used to it. There's a small pen that opens to the trailer, and they'll go in the trailer and sleep there. I sneak up and shut the door. In the morning, we just roll. They wake up in the trailer and it's peaceful," she says. Teague also trusts her processor: "I know they do a good job with them. I feel like it's good that you have some connection to the animal."
Teague first brought her pork to the market two years ago, with the help of Mo McKenna, who works with her at the stand, and develops recipes for sausage and for the farm blog. The two women soon acquired a loyal customer base. Teague still works as a waitress at Oak at Fourteenth to help support herself, but she hopes to diversify her farm offerings into chicken, vegetables and small fruits over the next couple of years.
Some of the pigs "make themselves more memorable than others," she adds. "I did have a favorite group, the sweetest litter of pigs. It was hard to process those. And one pig, Juna, a runt, was named after a friend's baby -- I'll never do that again. That pig was so full of personality. She would get out all the time. I think because she was smaller, she became the bully, and was so good at getting her way. She was a crazy pig."
But Teague is clear about her purpose: "The pigs are not pets. I take care of them and they like me, but when they get older, they can be aggressive. They get huge. They're not socialized to be pets, and it's not environmentally sound to treat them that way."