Friday, July 10, 2009

We share gardens. And chickens. Why not pigs?

Sharing is in. And not just because I wrote about it for MSN. It's even got its own website, The Sharing Solution. You can also find dozens of websites covering particular kinds of sharing. Garden-sharing's got several, including (but by no means limited to) Sharing backyards, Urban Gardenshare, and Hyperlocavore. And neighbors are beginning to get together to share the work of raising chickens.

But as far as I know, nobody has tried to share a pig. And what I want to know is, why not?

This all stems from a conversation I had this morning with my husband about our worm bin. Specifically, about how much garbage a bin of worms can actually eat. In our case, it's about a third of what we generate; another third goes into a composter in the garden.

And then there are the orange peels.

We are, you see, addicted to fresh orange juice. We drink just one small glass a day each. But it takes somewhere between 12 and 16 oranges (depending on size and juiciness) to make a quart of juice, and we go through a quart in roughly four days. That's an awful lot of orange peels. And to compost them in either the worm bin or the composter, I'd need to cut them up into tiny pieces, a task that daunts me. (Nor do I think that high a proportion of oranges - even organic oranges - would be especially good for the soil.)

As we were mulling this over this morning, I realized what we really need is a pig. Now, we can't raise a pig in our Brooklyn backyard. But why couldn't a bunch of neighbors get together and share the work of raising a pig - and the resultant meat? Animals seem almost meant to be shared - raising them single-handed is a no-time-off job. With a bunch of people sharing the job, nobody would be overworked, and everybody's excess food scraps would find a happy home. Including our peels, which might give the pork just a delicious hint of orange.

This isn't unheard of. In a recent post, Rob Hopkins writes of a Totnes resident who, as a child, took a bucket of pig swill down to a neighbor's pig every evening. He doesn't say, but I'd be astonished if the family didn't get some pork out of the deal. And in A Presumption of Daath, a mystery that takes place in World War II England, Jill Paton Walsh describes at some length the pig clubs that country-dwellers put together to get what was otherwise strictly rationed meat. One of the rules, apparently, was that you had to feed the pigs good garbage. "We have thrown someone out of the club...because they growed the most horrible-tasting meat," says one character. "Mr. Puffett's is best of all. He gives 'em windfall peaches from his kitchen garden, along of all the peelings, and do they taste different! Gorgeous, they are."

Of course, finding a place to keep the pig (or pigs - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a great proponent of home-raised pigs, warns that they're highly social, and says it's cruelty to keep just one) could be a problem. And from all I hear about pigs, it wouldn't be easy for club members to harden their hearts and send them off for slaughter. A friend of mine raises pigs for a living, and when she told me she'd stopped keeping ducks because they were so smart she hated to kill them, I asked how she dealt with killing pigs. "I close them in the truck," she said, "and try to forget where they're going."

Which may be what's behind the current dearth of pig clubs. Along with pesky municipal ordinances about raising them in the first place. But still (at least for the meat-eaters among us), wouldn't it be nice to take your kitchen scraps down the street to an appreciative pig, knowing that they were going to come back to you in the form of pork chops and bacon?

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