In Fall of 2000, Professor Chuck Talbott of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCATSU) invited Diane Halverson to speak about AWI's humane husbandry standards for pigs at a Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) conference. Paul Willis, Iowa pig farmer and manager of Niman Ranch Pork Company, the first company to embrace AWI's standards, also spoke.
When Dr. Talbott first read about Niman Ranch and AWI, he envisioned a program in which small-scale North Carolina pig farmers could be provided with a humane, sustainable alternative to contracting with factory hog operations to raise their hogs. In so doing, they would demonstrate their vital roles in enhancing rural communities, avoid the environmental damage commonly associated with factory hog operations, and give pigs freer lives.
Enough farmers expressed interest at the CFSA conference that Dr. Talbott applied for financial help to North Carolina's Golden LEAF Foundation, which helps tobacco farmers switch to non-tobacco enterprises, and Heifer Project International (HPI), which provides breeding animals to new or limited resource farmers.
Today, there are 28 small-scale North Carolina farmers in or about to enter the NCATSU-Golden LEAF-HPI program. Several farmers who initially received breeding gilts from Paul Willis's Iowa farm through an HPI grant have raised new gilts to pass on to the next group of farmers entering the program (a condition of the HPI grant). Golden LEAF funds pay for fencing, portable shelters for the pastures, and watering and feeding equipment.
Dr. Talbott's assistants (Mike Jones and Eliza Maclean) provide daily technical support for the farmers. All pigs in the program are raised outdoors with plenty of space and varied environments in which to perform their natural behaviors, including wooded areas with welcome shade during the hot North Carolina summer days.
AWI staff conduct site visits to the farms and prescribe changes, where necessary, for the farmers to meet AWI's standards. The meat from the pigs raised by the farmers that meet AWI's standards is sold to Niman Ranch and distributed in the East Coast market for pork from humanely raised hogs.
AWI is grateful to contribute to this effort and improve the lives of pigs while helping small-scale farmers survive by adopting humane, sustainable alternatives to contract hog production.