By On the Road to FARMLANDIA | August 22, 2011 at 09:06 AM EDT | No Comments
Thirteen days and 1788 miles later, I am leaving Dyersville, IA, home of The Field of Dreams movie site, and headed a bit north to Waukon. This part of Iowa, on the bluffs and in the valleys along the Mississippi, is about as beautiful as it gets. I've spent two days with Jude Becker, sixth generation farmer who raises organic pigs, no easy task. He raises some 350 sows and their progeny on pasture and in well-bedded hoop houses, and crop farms most of their feed on acreage that's an organic island in the middle of Iowa corn country and conventional farming. His family has been on the land since the 1800s, and he tells the story of a small stone building on the property that was built by the early Beckers. The family was attacked by Indians who were looking for food and so starved they were ready to kill for it. The family traded their way out of their predicament by offering what they had: a ham. And, as Jude put it, hams have been sustaining the family ever since. Jude markets his own pork, selling into upscale restaurants in northern California, the farmers' market in chicago, and to La Quercia in Iowa. Before I met Jude, I was buying his La Quercia prosciutto in a store called Stinky Brooklyn in Brooklyn, (of course). Who knew that one day I'd meet the guy who made it. Reminds me of when I first went out to Iowa in 2001 and the night before leaving on a month's shoot, had a Niman Ranch pork chop at Saul's in Brooklyn (of course). It was such a taste memory of what pork should taste like that I had to find out the source. The trail led to Paul Willis in Iowa, and three days later I was on the Willis Farm, admiring Paul's pasture-raised pigs. I am so thankful for that pork chop as it set me on a track that continues to this day.
Jude, like Paul, thinks in terms of raising animals for quality not quantity, for excellent food, not as dis-assembly line, anonymous nubs of "protein" favored by the meat industry. More on the comparison later.
Yes, someone built it (a movie set) and they continue to come. I could not resist visiting the Field of Dreams, which is still a tourist destination in the middle of a corn field. People come there to play baseball and hope for the spirits of ye olde baseball to come out of the corn. When I left, they were still waiting.