Rhonda Williams is probably one of the most enthusiastic and engaging farmers I’ve met in my food travels around Central Florida. I’ve visited a lot of amazing farms, seen beautiful places, and met some great characters on two legs and four. However, from my first email correspondence, with Rhonda’s use of animated pig emoticons (), I knew I was in for an extra special treat at This Lil’ Piggy Farm.
When I stepped out of my car on arrival to the farm, I was immediately greeted by a young pig sniffing my shoes. Bubby was my escort for the rest of my visit, keeping tabs on me and keeping by Rhonda’s side. Immediately, I knew she did things differently here.
Farming is certainly hard-work, and Rhonda doesn’t hold back, tending to sows in labor late in the evening or rising early for the morning feed. This Lil’ Piggy Farm is Animal Welfare Approved, and it’s clear she truly cares for her pigs and their personal well-being. Her methods are unconventional, but Rhonda just tries to have fun along the way, doing the best for her pigs and her customers. With her friendly pigs, it seems easy to enjoy the day. My short visit turns into a four hour tour in blink of an eye.
The entertaining piglets are like puppies, pulling on my bag and wanting to play. It’s a struggle to photograph the rambunctious litter of four week old Duroc/Yorkshire mixes, but my frustration is tempered by a sense of wonder at their playful spirits and friendly personalities. It’s all I can do not to take one home.
“I’m picky about who I keep,” Rhonda says while describing her herd of about 15 resident pigs. Each pig has a name and a personality to match. Her pigs are bred and raised on the property before being processed at a local AWA audited facility, South Marion Meats. The owners of that facility, Gary and Sue Armoogan also value food transparency, and were the only local processors to agree to AWA auditing. Rhonda then personally delivers orders to local homes and regional restaurants.
Often these well-tempered piglets find homes as 4-H projects or even as household pets! Due to the unconventionally close relationship Rhonda has with each ‘lil’ piggy,’ they respect her and other humans, leading healthy and happy lives with little stress and, therefore, little aggression. Hand-raising allows Rhonda to hand-pick, unfortunately sometimes having to find new homes from unruly pigs. “There’s not room for mean in my barn,” Rhonda comments.
The fun of hand-raising does come with some dilemmas. Rhonda always welcomes interested members of the community with open arms. Recently, a potential customer visited the farm. After her visit, the woman remarked, “I just love your pigs too much to ever buy pork from you.” Rhonda laughed as she told me this story. “That just happens sometimes.”
Rhonda loves her pigs and would rather have that closeness, helping the pigs have happy lives, and making her life happier, too. “No matter how short or how long their lives are, they deserve to have the best life possible.” Reflecting on the 4-H clubs and be able to give pigs to young children to raise and love, she says, “that fun stuff helps me deal with the sad stuff.”
It all seems to be fun stuff at This Lil Piggy Farm, where every pig is appreciated and enjoyed, entertained and entertaining, no matter what.
Think before you eat,
Winter 2012 Tampa Food Warrior
This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from! Boring legalese we feel we must include: this was written by a real live person who has their own opinions, which we value, but that do not necessary reflect, though they may (or may not), reflect the values and opinions of Real Time Farms. That is for you to guess and us to know.