Family Farm Brings Heritage Pigs to the Kenai

Gena and Brent Grobarek’s farm is tucked away in a small corner of Anchor Point accessible by a couple of winding gravel roads hidden back in the hills. They moved from Southeast Alaska to Anchor Point one summer about six years ago because they wanted to build a farm.

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The Grobarek Family - Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI
The Grobarek Family – Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI

“We lived in a wall tent one summer. This is before we had our kids. Brent built our house that summer. It’s not done yet but we’re working on it. We bought ten acres of land with stumps,” says Gena.

Before they went Green Acres, the husband and wife were both biologists and now they’re full time farmers.

“Yeah I was working with Fish and Game with moose and now I’m just doing this because the pay is better believe it or not. Yeah that’s the joke,” says Brent.

Gena and Brent take turns holding their youngest, Alice, as we walk the farm. Brent seems happy to let Gena do the talking while he supervises the two boys, Emil and Oliver. The farm is obviously still a work in progress. It holds a chicken run. There’s a big white high tunnel in the center, a garden partly fenced off with seine net, and a troupe of goats that dutifully follow us for the tour.

“I don’t know, we’ve always wanted to do this. We both came from an agriculture background. We got involved with the agriculture community and it just seems like there is a big void to fill,” says Gena.

Locally sourced pigs are one of the big missing pieces contributing to this void the Grobareks see.

“One of the reasons why we feel it’s important to have this resource here is, A: When you bring animals in from different places you could also be bringing in diseases even though they’re supposed to be quarantined and they’re supposed to be health checked,” says Gena.

There’s also the price. Gena says Alaskans looking for live pigs are at the mercy of constantly fluctuating prices dictated by outside events.

“Last summer there was some kind of pig cholera disease. So the demand was high and the supply was low so pig prices went way up.”

To help build a local stock that is isolated from those problems the couple want to introduce a special breed of pig called Herefords to the peninsula. Hereford pigs are just one of the old heritage breeds traditionally raised by farmers before the age of the modern factory farms.  A lot of heritage breeds are endangered now because big market suppliers don’t raise them.

“The reason why it’s important to keep the heritage pigs going is because they do well in small operations like this where you can graze them and they’ll actually put on weight on pasture and be able to withstand the elements,” says Gena.

“A factory pig lives in a ten by twelve cell and never sees the sun and gets fed a corn diet. That’s where you get the white in the meat. These pigs are going to be out roaming around. They’ll get their red blood cells and muscle tissue moving so you get a marbling of the meat, which is different from pork that you’re used to,” adds Brent.

The Grobareks are hoping people in the community will chip in to bring the Herefords to Alaska. The pigs will be shipped from a breeder in Washington State. Gena says they’re looking at about $250 per head for the males and $225 for each female not to mention the cost to transport. They put together a Kickstarter online to raise the funds.

“So we wanted to give the community here an opportunity to support our Kickstarter and our project by purchasing ahead of time a finished hog,” says Gena.

People can help pay the hogs way here by buying stake in the future hogs the Grobareks will eventually breed. They have a goal of just under $6,000 for their Kickstarter and about $670 have been pledged so far. If they don’t reach their goal by May 31st, the Grobareks say they’ll take out a loan and pay for the pigs themselves. They’re looking to buy six females and one or two males. They’ll need two males at least, if they want to sell breeding pigs to people interested in raising their own stock.

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Quinton Chandler is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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