Monday, February 17, 2014

Dear Visitors and Friends,

Spring is just around the corner, and soon Wagner Historic Farm will swirling with guests, volunteers, and livestock roaming the grounds once again. The vacant stalls behind the barn, where you’ll most likely find me, will be occupied by 4-H pigs and sheep. I’ve written a lot about sheep over the years, but not so much pigs, so I’d like to take this moment to give you a brief history of swine in the settling of America.

(you can't see me)
Pigs were some of the first livestock brought to the New World; for certain, pigs were introduced to the present-day U.S. no later than Hernando de Soto’s arrival in the 1530s. Being hardy animals that could survive a long passage at sea, most any weather conditions, as well as thrive in the virgin forests of America on almost any plants and prey available, swine were ideal for colonizing lands that Europeans knew very little of back in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Pork was a very important source of meat in colonial times, partially due to the fact that pigs grew and reproduced very quickly in times when food and crop cultivation in the new lands were challenging. Some pigs were set free to forage in the wild and were then hunted once they were fully grown. This practice saved precious food for hungry colonists, although recapturing the pigs was not easy. Some of them eluded hunters and gave rise to the wild pigs that live in the wilderness of our country today.

(the pigs at the Farm aren't wild or hunted, but they do like to run around a lot!)

Another advantage of raising swine is that their meat can easily be preserved through salting, brining, or smoking. These methods removed moisture from the meat, giving it a longer shelf life. The colonists also learned new ways to cook meat from the indigenous tribes of the Southeast. Although the Native Americans did not have pork before the Europeans arrived, they had a process for preparing meat by smoking it directly over a fire known as barbacoa. As you may have guessed by the name, this was the forerunner to the uniquely American culinary staple today known as “barbecue.”

I could go on much longer about how swine shaped American and world history, but I’ll stop with these interesting tidbits for now. It’s important to remember just how valuable these noble animals are to our society. Consider it the next time you stop by the Farm to visit the pigs.

Until next time,