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Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Minor

A Trip To Ham Sweet Farm

Ham Sweet Farm is a small family pasture-based pork and poultry farm in Williamston, Michigan. The 30-acre backyard farm is run by Kate and her husband Christian, with the help of their 2 year old son. They operate with the core values of ensuring the best quality products, supporting their community, and maintaining ethical raising practices. All of the animals are fed only locally-grown and milled grain that is organic and GMO-free.

Both with full time jobs, the couple had an initial shared interest in raising quality food for their own consumption, and the backyard business expanded from there. They are now in their 5th season of selling at a mid-Michigan Meat CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), offering pasture-raised chicken, duck, turkey and pork. They pride themselves on the award-winning taste of their meat, which comes from the animals’ older age, ability to roam free and eat a top-notch diet. Their animals are mindfully raised and their products are reasonably priced.

Ham Sweet Farm is a model for economic, social, and environmental sustainability for a farming operation. Through their local market involvement, social consideration in pricing, and environmentally sustainable practices, they effectively and thoughtfully uphold the three pillars of sustainability.

Keeping prices relatively low as well as supporting local farmers is a key value for Kate and Christian. They are socially sustainable by taking into consideration the needs of other local farmers and maintaining strong community relationships, as they have demonstrated through their local feed consumption. During our visit, Kate discussed the social awareness that enables success amongst other farmers in the industry, contrary to the popular goal of expansion and increased profit margin that exists so prominently in our society. The couple intentionally align prices with the general market in order to respect poultry and meat farmers that rely on production as their primary means of profit.They also buy all of their grain from a local 4th generation farm, so they are able to create symbiotic relationships within the farming community rather than perpetuating the competitive nature of food production.

Ham Sweet Farm’s operation is able to stay economically viable due to the strong community connections and partnerships they maintain. They have a reliable and consistent customer base that allows them to forge relationships with their consumers and cater to individual requests. For example, they have a niche market for selling organ meat because they use the entire animal. Kate mentioned that one of her customers buys chicken hearts regularly to feed as a snack to her kids. They also directly sell to two or three restaurants, which allows them a larger steady income stream.

Their entire operation upholds the values of environmental sustainability in a food system. They operate locally from start to finish with the use of locally-sourced grain, sending the animals to a local meat processor, and selling the finished product locally. This cuts down on food miles and creates a more resilient local food system. They also cut down on waste whenever possible, utilizing products that would otherwise be seen as waste. They ask the meat processor to receive back the parts of the animals back that cannot be sold, like the head of the pig to be used for head cheese. They also take advantage of the waste from a nearby edible arrangements shop with the outcome of growing wild melons and pumpkins that they feed to their hogs.

Ham Sweet

The couple have a positive and uplifting spirit despite the stresses of the industry. They have 30-50 pigs on average and they have found that number to be a sustainable amount for them, considering the farm has just began to support itself in the last 2 years. “Some days [they] are ready to give up the whole gig and other times [they] are ready to add on another 50 pigs,” Christian said with a laugh. They are excited about the prospect of expanding more infrastructure on the farm, and are in the process of building a barn for the pigs. Ham Sweet Farm does not have a pressing desire to greatly expand in the near future considering both Kate and Christian have full-time jobs, however they are looking into expansion in the form of product diversification. Neither Kate nor her husband grew up on farms and yet they were able to successfully start their small operation out of their desire to be able to eat food that they grow for themselves. The fact that they could then grow that into a profitable small business with full time jobs and a new child was even more impressive. Their values of being stewards of the land, respecting other local farmers, and respecting their animals with mindful raising practices is uplifting to see amongst the challenges and less than ideal practices found too often in the larger food industry. Their passion and dedication is what makes Ham Sweet Farm truly sweet.