This is part of a series profiling the businesses involved in the Sexy Men of YEG Food calendars, which feature photos of local coffee roasters, and food truck and restaurant owners. The proceeds from the calendar, now in its second year, benefit the Edmonton Food Bank.
As a born-and-raised city kid, I had certain expectations about pigs and pig farms — a barn, some pigs, maybe some chickens? Pretty straightforward. But my assumptions were about to be seriously and impressively challenged when I met with Tyler Parker, Mr. July 2016 , to talk about Mangalitsas, the unusual breed of pigs he raises.
After a little bit of confusion on the country roads, my little group (myself, my husband-slash-photographer and my adventure-loving sister-in-law) pulled into the driveway of the farm. It was not what I expected — there was no huge, industrial barn, for one thing. We were greeted at first by a friendly farm dog, and then by Malorie Aubé, Tyler’s wife. While Tyler was featured in the Sexy Men of YEG Calendar, he was busy working on fencing, so Malorie took some time to meet with us. We were invited into Malorie and Tyler’s home to talk about their farm, the family and the Mangalitsas.
My sister-in-law, who comes from New Brunswick, picked up some familiar accents; Tyler is originally from Perth, N.B., and Malorie is from Quebec. They, along with their three sons — Mathis, 9, Samuel, 7, and William, 4 — are building this farm from the ground up. Both Malorie and Tyler are agrologists, with degrees from the University of Alberta, and are committed to permaculture: farming sustainably, safely and ethically. The goal is to operate off the grid, and they are largely solar-powered now. They raised Chantecler chickens and Dexter cows before focusing on Mangalitsa pigs.
As we chatted in the kitchen, we noticed Malorie and Tyler’s middle son, Samuel, reading on the living room couch, and holding a bundle of blankets in his lap. After acting shy for about a minute, Samuel was soon sitting across the table from us, talking about life on the farm, and showing us the bundle, which turned out to be a four-day-old piglet, recuperating from emergency medical treatment the night before. Besides being adorable, the piglet seemed very mellow, snuggling in Malorie’s arms and being fed by syringe.
This laid-back attitude seems to be characteristic of Mangalitsa pigs. They are a heritage breed, originally from Hungary, with a calm, curious temperament. Their name means, essentially, “lard hog”, and their meat is more like red meat, marbled with a fat that is rich with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. They grow slowly compared to other breeds; it takes two years to raise them, and the meat can cure for another two years. But the fat, which melts at body temperature, makes the meat excellent for charcuterie, and the lard is useful for cooking and for products such as soap, creams, and candles. Just before we were taken on a tour of the farm, Samuel showed us a tusk (Tyler and Malorie don’t cut the teeth or the tails of the pigs). It felt light, looked fragile, but was surprisingly strong (and maybe a little scary).
A home fit for a pig
Mangalitsas can stay outdoors all year round, and so a traditional barn is not required. As we walked over to the enclosure for sows and piglets, we couldn’t even see the pigs — they were nestled among the shrubs and trees, and cooling themselves in patches of mud. A couple sows peeked out at us, but decided we weren’t interesting enough to approach. In another area, a little hut and a muffin-shaped straw bale could be seen, but no pigs. Until Malorie called them, that is, and then about 15 Mangalitsas came pouring out of the small shelter and gathered around her for some attention. The pigs were large, and hairier than one would expect, covered in a combination of a woolly undercoat and a longer, wiry topcoat. They subsist primarily by grazing (they are moved to different fields to control their impact on the land), with additional protein provided for nursing mothers. Spent grain from local breweries helps supplement the diet. Right now, the farm supports about 100 pigs, including over 30 piglets.
Malorie, Tyler, and their family have worked hard to create and maintain this environment, and the whole process, as Tyler described it, is “slowly rewarding.” Malorie has recently learned that historically, Mangalitsa hair has been used for tying flies for fly fishing, and she’s also been working on developing soaps and creams using the lard.
With new research being done about the benefits of “healthier” fats, there is increasing attention being paid to Mangalitsa meat. Several local meat markets and restaurants, including Acme Meat market and The Marc, are supplied with Mangalitsa pork from Malorie and Tyler’s farm. While eating meat isn’t for everyone, the agrologists’ perspective is that eating the pigs is a part of their life cycle, and is necessary to preserve the breed.
Tyler and Malorie will have a chance to show off their hard work on Open Farm Day, which will be happening on Aug. 21, 2016. They, along with some other local farmers, will be welcoming the public between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., for tours, tractor and hay rides, and to see the Mangalitsas. It was a pleasure talking to Malorie, Tyler, and the very informative Samuel, and it was thrilling to see how this small family farm is moving Alberta agriculture into the future, by respecting the past. I’m pretty sure my little group will be first in line for the tractor rides on Open Farm Day.