BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
PUNGO — There was a cool breeze blowing across Cartwright Family Farms, and the resident hogs were in heaven.
One sow, newly liberated from childcare responsibilities on this recent day, relaxed in the shade while her offsprings, weaned and placed in their own paddock, squealed to greet their human visitors
Owners Derek and Janna Eason run the small farm, breeding pigs from the five sows and one boar that they own and selling them as meat to individuals or to some local restaurants.
Some customers buy the entire hog and have it processed, while others just buy bacon, pork chops, or other cuts as part of their routine grocery shopping.
Their pigs, Derek Eason is quick to point out, differ from animals raised on factory farms in that they live outdoors, forage for food and eat vegetable scraps. They are not fed antibiotics, hormones, or grains that have been genetically modified.
Derek and Jana Eason are in their third year of hog production, and they began it because they enjoy eating but despise the way some meat is being raised today.
“We wanted to get a healthy product,” Derek Eason said. “This is all natural.”
“And we wanted to give others an opportunity to experience this,” said Janna Eason.
Farming is also a part of Derek Eason’s heritage. His farm is named after his maternal great-grandfather and grandparents, who were produce and chicken farmers on the same tract of land.
“This has always been known as Cartwright Farms,” Eason said.
Eason’s father, Chester Eason, also helps with the farm chores.
The couple breed the sows annually. Each sow could have five-10 babies in the litter, and it can take up to nine months for them to be large enough to slaughter.
Some of the hogs are Ossabaw breed, descended from feral hogs that run wild on Ossabaw Island, Georgia. Others are Tamworths or Berkshires.
The pigs are tiny when they’re born, Derek Eason said, and grow to about 250 or 300 pounds before they can be slaughtered. They remain with their mother for eight to 11 weeks, but begin taking a little solid food at about five weeks.
Caring for hogs takes a lot of time. They have to be fed and watered, and they must have water to lie in and make mud during hot weather.
“A pig can’t sweat,” said Derek Eason, “so that’s the only way that they can cool off.”
The pigs live in quarter-acre paddocks, which house two grown hogs, and they are rotated to keep them from wearing out the land. When a paddock is empty, it’s planted in cover crops, such as rye, wheat, cow peas or clover to replenish the nutrients in the soil.
The pigs also like to munch the natural grasses, but they’re also fed vegetable scraps from a local produce farm as well as a non-soy, non-GMO food that Derek Eason buys from a farm in Stuart’s Draft.
Getting the food is the hardest and most time-consuming part of the farm work, Derek Eason said. In addition to farming, he is a firefighter for Virginia Beach while Janna works as an X-ray technician at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital.
Farming takes up most of their time outside of work, they said. Still, they love it, and want to expand into growing chickens soon.
Derek Eason hopes to also eventually have cows, and dreams of farming full-time someday.
They like working with the animals, and they love dealing with happy customers, the Easons said.
“We had one lady call to say that her husband was out at sea and wanted our pork chops for his first meal when he returned,” Janna Eason said.
Reach Cartwright Family Farms via (757) 477-6293 or visit the website by clicking on this link.
©2016 Pungo Publishing Co. LLC