Washington Evening Journal
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Sandquists named top hog farmers for Niman Ranch
FAIRFIELD — Dee and Harold Sandquist of rural Jefferson County received a prestigious honor this year when they were named “Niman Ranch Hog Farmers of the Year.”
The Jefferson County couple raise 800 head of hogs from wean to finish on their farm. They’ve been raising hogs through Niman Ranch since 2015, and have quickly become leaders in the industry. They have hosted Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig at their farm, and have become “farmer ambassadors.” Dee said she and her husband are big promoters of Niman Ranch, and they’ve visited chefs around the country that serve its products.
“A couple of years ago, we went to Los Angeles to visit some restaurants with Niman Ranch,” Dee said. “Recently, I was in Austin visiting my son, and went around with a distributor to a couple of places that use it. I’m excited about Niman Ranch because I think it’s a great way for beginning farmers to raise livestock without a lot of upfront costs.”
Niman Ranch invited the Sandquists to its annual appreciation dinner on Sept. 11. Dee said she and her husband had no idea they were going to receive an award that day.
“We were surprised when we learned about the award,” Dee said.
Niman Ranch has 750 independent family farmers, whose practices emphasize sustainable agriculture such as no-till, cover crops, crop rotation and a focus on animal welfare. Dee said the vast majority of those 750 farmers, over 600, work with the pork industry, though the company also works with the beef and lamb industry.
In addition to the Sandquists receiving the top award, Harold Sandquist and another local farmer Steve Gunderson received third place for “Meat Quality Award.” Harold and Steve raise hogs together, and Steve has about 400 of them.
“Harold has been a good mentor to Steve and has helped him to start raising hogs on his own,” Dee said.
Dee said she and Harold are about to get their next batch of piglets on Saturday, their second of the year.
“These pigs will be about 20-25 pounds, and come from a Niman provider that just does the farrowing,” Dee said. “Some of the Niman farmers do the full process from farrow to finish, but we just do wean to finish.”
When it’s time to send the hogs to slaughter after 4-5 months, the Sandquists send them to a Niman processing plant in Sioux Center, Iowa.
Dee said she’s glad that she and Harold added Niman Ranch hogs in 2015 because it helps diversify their farm operation, which includes row crops.
“The commitment that we were willing to make at that time has worked out well for us,” she said.
According to the company’s website, Niman Ranch was started in the early 1970s on a family-owned cattle ranch in Bolinas, California, just north of San Francisco. The company gained a reputation as one using humane methods and all-natural feeds, and before long, became a hit in local grocery stores and popular San Francisco Bay restaurants.
In 1995, the company expanded to raising hogs when the founders met Paul Willis of Thornton, Iowa. At the time, Willis was busy revitalizing sustainable hog farming methods in the Midwest, moving away from the common industrial practices.
“His dedication to animal welfare and stewardship of the land closely matched our stringent principles,” the company writes on its website. “A partnership was quickly formed, allowing us to proudly offer a variety of proteins.”
Today, Niman Ranch’s network includes 750 family farmers and ranchers throughout the country. Whether they’re raising hogs, cattle or lamb, they share the company’s commitment to raising livestock under strict protocols and the belief that humane and sustainable methods produce the best flavor.
Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org