Vandele Farms goes whole hog in their operation
One of the only farms in the Southeast with their own processing floor on site, Vandele Farms on Cedar Creek produces humanely pasture raised pork for local restaurants and wholesale businesses throughout the area. The Lake Lure operation currently delivers to Asheville twice a week, sells their retail products at the Mills River Market, the Half Moon Market in Black Mountain, the Hendersonville Co-op, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, a natural-dog-food company in Hickory, and to chefs at nearby North Carolina and South Carolina restaurants. They also do a Health CSA dropoff at Pardee Hospital.
But their biggest account is a South Slope restaurant of national renown, Buxton Hall Barbecue, reveals Kathleen “Kat” Crocker, co-owner with her husband Larry.
The Crockers have been running their expansive farm in the Hickory Nut Gorge area since 1987. Originally in the horseback-riding business, the two decided to make a switch about a decade ago, after learning about their niece and nephew’s century-old farm that was direct-marketing beef. The Crockers had been sustainably raising pigs for themselves already, so their niece and nephew recommended they direct-market their pork.
“We want a quality product, and to know our product from end to end, so we have our own processing floor for that reason,” says Kat. [It was added in 2018 and is certified by the USDA and locally by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.] “Our business plan shifted after getting the processing floor, as we found that chefs wanted a product that was hand cut from quality pork” — a whole-hog model. “That’s where we fit into the niche.”
Currently, the farm has a mix of heritage breeds — primarily Berkshire, Red Wattle, Duroc, and Yorkshire. “We started with Herefords, but we evolved at one point and now raise pigs that are pretty proportionate and have nice muscling in the shoulders and hams,” explains Kat. The Crockers breed their sows and boars, and, with the help of three farmers nearby, they can raise a larger herd of pigs than they would be able to on their land alone.
The couple and their small team have worked diligently to develop a rotational pasture system for the pigs — in fact, they’re still in the works of fine tuning that system. Vandele Farms has two separate tracts of land where the pigs are kept. “We’ve got the basics down at one farm, but now we need to transfer the focus here to do the same thing,” clarifies Kat. “We’re always improving it, and with hogs, the erosion is a major issue that we’re trying to get a handle on. Luckily our local water-and-soil county agent has been very helpful.”
Having pasture-raised pigs and other free-roaming livestock allows for a healthier lifestyle. “Our pigs are toned,” says Kat. “They have don’t have a huge amount of fat, but instead have a more normal fat-to-meat ratio.” The feed the Crockers use does not contain any additives, preservatives, additional GMOs, growth hormones, or added antibiotics. It’s all vegetarian, with no meat byproducts. Every batch is made to order from CPC Livestock Nutrition in South Carolina. “Once it’s delivered to us on tractor trailers, we fill the feeders and offer free choice to our pigs in the pasture,” says Kat.
The importance of eating local, according to the Crockers, is that it keeps the money in the community as a closed system. “If the economy is eating what’s produced in the area, it’s more sustainable,” says Kat. “It’s a matter of quality control — you’re not shipping your product across the state, county, country, or even out of country. Customers also know where their meat is coming from — and they know their farmer.”
The Crockers partner with other local businesses such as Spicewalla in Asheville and Oreno Hellenic Ladi Olive Oil (of Greenville, SC) to make specialty products including sausage.
“We’re not even in the same market [as the factory farms],” says Kat. “Our customers want to know the animal had a good life, that it was free to walk around and live in community.”