We drove up this weekend to visit our pig farmers at Clawhammer Farm. They live upstate outside Ithaca, NY. We stayed off the farm in a lovely home with a terrific host that we found on AirBnB close by. We wanted a date weekend shaken up with business. I texted Nick the day we arrived.
We arrived just after two and took a quick tour of the farm with Becky. Nick pulled in about thirty minutes in with a grain bin strapped to a trailer bed. Nick’s intern David, his friend Anders and another friend Rachel all set into work. Everyone refers to Nick as Big Man.
Me: So where’d you get the grain bin?
Nick: We call him Larry ‘MOTHERFucking’ Gates, because I swear that every other word is some kind of curse word. I asked him how he’s been and he said:
I don’t know about over at YOUR place, but over at MY place all it does is fucking rain and fucking blow.
-Larry ‘MOTHERFucking’ Gates
Tenacity and Country Engineering
I’m a Texas boy and I’m sure that will make a lot of you folks cringe or maybe even throw up a little, but it’s weekends and summer months out wrestling with country problems like what we did with Nick and Becky this past weekend that made me who I am today. That, followed by years of successes and failures in kitchens (and other places) it was refreshing to learn from Nick’s approach to problem solving.
Problem solving a project together is a sure fire means to coming to a common ground. Then a conversation about prices and delivery times really have meaning to you. Learning to work as a team because ultimately we are in this together and that it’s about the people and those relationships in and around them. Make them all work and do what you love. The people and success, if that’s your thing, will come later.
Nick and I communicate regularly over text messages most days and weeks. He’s up there in Lisle with me down here in Brooklyn. I’m small potatoes as far as orders goes but he doesn’t treat me like that. His texts are short and sweet while mine overly long. And those weeks or days when I don’t get one or don’t send one I feel a kind of weight, maybe an itch; something is missing or wrong.
When he pulled up with the grain bin in the mid-afternoon, we thought for sure it was a project for another day. Becky had mentioned they had a crane operator coming the next day. But Nick, ever-conscious of the dollar-spent/dollar-earned principle, saw an opportunity to do it himself and save $300. That’s food for 1 pig for its lifetime, more or less.
Ever the skeptic, I thought about the work pragmatically at every step. Nick’s careful and quiet suggestions to us that it was going to happen, and happen today, brought us closer to landing that damn thing on its foundation. Nick would hint that maybe this might work, then David might take a stab at the idea or improvise his own. Nick’s friend Anders would move in for his idea and I with mine, then Becky would chime in a suggestion.
All the while my city wife and business partner Tracie observed quietly. When she’s like this, she’s usually concerned or annoyed. I knew it was the former. She grew up never really having to deal with physical problem solving, but she’ll kick my ass any day on the sheer density of problems she solves online. Despite her anxiety, it worked. We landed it within a few hours. No crane needed; just a bit of country engineering and tenacity.
Paying more for ingredients and getting to know our suppliers is one aspect of sourcing quality ingredients. Sometimes it means driving five hours upstate and spending an afternoon raising a grain bin without a crane.Through this all you get to understand how much a farmer values the lives of his pigs, farm, staff and friends and we get to experience just how crucial fully utilizing an animal is, and that is what we do.
In turn, I understand deeply that I need to keep ordering from them to keep their farm going and growing or they’ll have to replace me. For our business, this summer has been a study in taking two steps forward only to take a giant leap back, so the exchange has been slim. Going upstate was us saying to Nick, we’re here, we’re in it and we’ll fight for you.
I cannot describe the feeling you get from doing a project like this together. I think Larry Gates might say it best.
Sometimes it’s fucking blowing and fucking raining. But you get through. Because you fucking must. -(maybe) Larry ‘MOTHERFucking’ Gates
Or maybe he’s full of shit. Love what you do and the rest comes easy. You might even get to hang out with friends, drink booze, and end it all with one of the most satisfying meals you’ve had all week.
And if you are lucky, like we are, while you are taking a water break out of the sun and getting perspective on the challenges of raising a grain bin without a crane, you get to watch Big Man tell you about his pig named Tramp Stamp who usually… might…probably…will, roll over on her belly when Nick touches her right and maybe you will too.
When he’s not behind the wheel of a tractor or rolling around with his pigs, Nick Westervelt can be found bullshitting with one of your favorite chefs off to the side of his stylin’ reefer truck outside one of the many popular restaurants in NYC.
Read more about Clawhammer Farm. Becky Mumaw’s first person accounts of life on the farm are far more engaging than mine.
Later this week, I’ll continue with part 2 in this series.