What Is Forested Pork, Anyway?

Pigs are well suited to forested environments and mixed terrain. Trees provide shade to keep them cool in the summer and are excellent back scratchers.

There’s a reason you may not have heard the term “forested pork” before finding Grass Roots. The majority of pork available in a grocery stores—in fact, roughly 97% of all pork raised in the U.S—comes from pigs that have spent their entire lives indoors. Many people call these operations “confinement lots” because they are warehouse-like spaces crammed full of animals who never move freely, breathe fresh air, experience sunlight, or step on soft, clean earth. None of this is true at Grass Roots farms.

At Grass Roots, we refer to our pork as “forested” or “pastured.” Our pigs live their entire lives outdoors and spend most of their time in the wooded parts of our farms. This practice—keeping animals in their natural habitat—allows our pigs to thrive.

Why do we raise our pigs in the forest?

Pigs are well suited to forested environments and mixed terrain. Trees provide shade to keep them cool in the summer and are excellent back scratchers. Grass Roots pigs are raised in small herds, where they have lots of space to root, and wallow in mud, if they’re so inclined.

Not only does a life outdoors keep them healthier and happier, but this exercise also develops the intramuscular fat that discerning diners recognizes as a sure indicator of superior flavor. The diversity of the animals’ diet from their forest forage—treats like acorns, walnuts, mosses and bramble—make the taste of meat more complex and full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

How do pigs help a sustainable farmer?

Pigs help revitalize areas of a farm with tough overgrowth—like invasive blackberries and wild rose. They eat these challenging plants, ones ruminant animals (like cows) won’t touch. As they munch, their rooting snouts and hooves disturb the soil—making it easier for the earth to absorb the all-natural and super rich fertilizer the pigs leave behind in their manure.

As a result, better grasses grow. This rotational, symbiotic land management enables a farmer to improve her land while simultaneously raising multiple batches of healthy animals—which provides her with a sustainable income. And because pigs can spend all of their lives in the woods—areas of land where raising anything else for food is just about impossible—she also has a more diversified, efficient production system.

So, forested pork is not only more delicious and nutritious, it’s also more sustainable.

Why haven’t I seen forested pork in my grocery story?

Because approximately 97% of pork raised in the U.S. comes from a handful of corporations. And none of those guys are raising their pigs outdoors.

How is most pork raised?

We don’t want to dwell on the negative, but we do want to share some things we’ve read that can add additional perspective between Grass Roots and industrial pork production. You know, just in case you’re still tempted to reach for that $3.50 pork chop in your grocer’s fridge.

There are so, so many reasons industrial methods are problematic—for the animal, the environment, and the consumer. In this interview, journalist, editor, and author Barry Estabrook details his findings about pork production and its impacts. If you don’t know much about conventional practices—especially in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), we recommend that you read it. To summarize—the living conditions are horrible, the waste byproducts are atrocious, and the food that results is flavorless at best, dangerous at worst.

And a few more suggested readings…

This study highlights the environmental and health problems resulting from CAFO.

This article examines the impacts CAFOs have on their surrounding communities.

This article is a detailed account of how horrific the quality of life is for pig farmers who contract with big corporations and the animals they raise.

We know learning about this stuff can be downright disturbing. But we also know that you choose to buy from Grass Roots because you want to know the honest truth about where your meat comes from—and that involves knowing about the other stuff, too. Thanks for your care and support. Together we’re changing the face of pig production in America, making life better for pigs, small farmers, and our own dinner tables. Here’s to happy forested pigs!