How CAFOs divided an Arkansas community

As a young man, Johnny Carrol Sain dreamed of owning an industrial hog farm like his uncle. Eventually, he did, raising hogs for Cargill on 55 acres in northern Arkansas. He’s out of the business now, and in FERN’s latest piece, published with Arkansas Life, he explores how industrial meat production has damaged the environment, the economy, and the social cohesion in his rural community.

“Before corporations became involved in pork production in the ’70s, pigs were often called “mortgage lifters” because of their quick turnaround and low cost of production,” Sain writes. “Pork was also a self-regulating market. An astute farmer could flip hogs quickly—when prices were up, they would jump into hogs, and when prices were down, they got out. This free-market regulation kept the price at a point at which, generally speaking, the farmers would be paid fairly for their labor and the product.

“But the pork industry changed dramatically with the advent of industrial pig farms. Corporations with deep pockets eliminated competition by keeping the cost of the product well below the cost of production over an extended period of time. For small producers who raised hogs only when the market was favorable, that meant no jumping back in. It drove them out of the pig business for good.”

Sain introduces us to Sean and Carol Bansley, whose 300-acre farm is part of a resurgence in Arkansas of the old way of raising pigs: on pasture, with care for the animals, and thus for the meat that the animals produce.

“Happy pig, happy plate,” Carol Bansley tells Sain about her pigs. “It lived. We cared for it. We know that they had a good life, and we’re eating a cleaner, healthier product from an animal that had one bad day, only one bad day. Actually, just one bad minute. The rest of its life was outside, on the grass, in the fresh air and sun.”