Russ Kremer, winner of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) Growing Green Food Producer award, knows firsthand the risks of industrial-scale farming. A fifth-generation farmer who raises pigs in Osage, Missouri in 1989, Kremer caught an antibiotic-resistant strain of streptococcus after being injured by one of his boars and nearly died. Doctors administered seven kinds of antibiotics to him, finally finding one that worked.
The overuse of antibiotics in farming has been a long-standing concern since the late 1970s. It is well-documented that using antibiotics for non-therapeutic reasons in meat farming contributes heavily to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs.”
Realizing that the antibiotic he used with his pigs had created the superbug that nearly killed him, Kremer started his farm over, getting rid of his old pigs. He aimed to raise the new generation of heirloom pigs antibiotic-free. The hogs were no longer quartered in tight crates, but instead grazed in paddocks; he also began feeding them additive- and meat-free feed. While neighbors and friends predicted a tremendous loss, he saved US$16,000 in veterinary bills: Kremer’s pigs have a nearly 99 percent survival rate.
In the late 1990s, demand for pork decreased, and the pork industry suffered. In order to create a relationship with his customers and foster a steady market, he changed his farming model again. In 2001, he organized a 52 farming families to create the Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative, a group that raises and processes pigs sustainably and humanely without relying on antibiotics. As the cooperative initially suffered, leaking money and accruing debt, Kremer traveled across the United States, acting as ambassador and salesman. He facilitated deals between his cooperative and companies such as Whole Foods Market, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and New York City’s D’Artagnan markets, selling humanely-raised drug-free pork to the patrons of these venues.
Not only has Kremer adopted new models of pork-raising and processing, he has become an out-spoken advocate for sustainable and antibiotic-free farming, continuing to travel the country to lecture and teach.