He has been hailed the "Pope of Pork," and "Savior from Superbugs," but the one title Russ Kremer is most proud of is "Farmer from Frankenstein."
Frankenstein is a small town in Osage County. "There is no better place to raise hogs than right here in the Ozarks," Kremer says.
This fifth-generation diversified pork producer garnered a lot of national attention this past year. First, there was the Chipotle television advertisement that ran during the 2012 Grammy's. The animated commercial showed a farmer, based on Kremer, moving from more modern confined pork production practices to open-air hog facilities. Then there was the 2013 Growing Green Award from the Natural Resources Defense Council recognizing Kremer's passion for embracing antibiotic-free and sustainable production practices.
After a near-death experience with an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection that he believes was contracted from his pigs in 1989, Kremer realized he had to make changes in his operation. He sold all of his hogs and started over raising pigs in what he considers "the natural, old-fashioned way,"– free-roaming, pasture-raised and without drugs. He says it is one way smaller hog farms can remain viable in the industry.
Armed with his vision and determination to make a change, Kremer along with 33 other hog producers created Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative, which provides members a market for their meat at premium prices. However, members must agree to a strict set of regulations included in no antibiotics fed to pigs.
Kremer is finally seeing his hard work come to fruition. Today, Ozark Mountain Pork boasts 52 members, the group process about 1,300 pigs every week.
The co-op offers products under the brands of Heritage Acres and Fork in the Road. Today, some of the buyers include national chains like Whole Foods, Chipotle, Costco and La Quercia.
Kremer says the development of these markets did take a change in mindset. "In this day, it is all about building relationships," he says. "I think in agriculture we have gotten away from that. We have gotten away from trusting each other and those in the food chain. I had to get back to that."
Members of Ozark Mountain Pork are receiving a premium for their product, roughly $50 more per animal than the conventional market provides. "It is about keeping families on the farm," he says. "I have talked about this approach with the presidents of the companies we work with. It is important to all of us that we sustain this method of pork production for future generations. I see it as a model of hope for our hog farming families."
To read more about Kremer's operation and sustainable production practices log click here.