Photographs courtesy of April Wilson.
April Wilson is a third-generation hog farmer. Her family farm, Seven W Farm, was established in 1959 by her grandfather Ernest Wilson. Her mother and father, Lorna and Dan, along with her two brothers and their wives, are all involved in the farm operation. The family grows corn, soybeans, small grains, and hay on Seven W Farm. They also raise chickens, sheep, beef cows, and care for their organic dairy herd.
Wilson and Niman Ranch share the philosophy that animals should be raised using humane practices. Seven W Farm has sold between 200-3,000 hogs a year to Niman Ranch since the fall of 1998. The hogs have access to year-round hoop barns and to pastures in the summer months.
Food Tank spoke with April on the importance of showing people where their food comes from, and inspiring more people to get involved with farming.
Food Tank (FT): What does it mean to be part of the Niman Ranch family?
April Wilson (AW): In supplying pork to Niman Ranch I joined their network of hundreds of other like-minded hog farmers that provide me with a sense of community and commonality. These farmers know how hard we have to work to raise our livestock in a pasture-based system and therefore support me. Niman Ranch values what I do on the farm and understands that my efforts directly impact the quality of the meat that I provide.
FT: What sustainable farming practices do you use on your farm?
AW: Our sustainable farming practices include rotational grazing, cover crops, tree buffer strips, crop rotation, organic practices, and we also maintain wildlife refuge areas.
FT: What do you think is the most important reason to farm sustainably?
AW: Sustainable farming is important so that future generations can have the resources to continue farming.
FT: What about farming keeps you on the land year after year?
AW: I love watching things grow and knowing I have a hand in it. I am also proud to know that I am not only feeding my own family but feeding the broader community. It means something to me to know that my hard work not only provides food for others but offers a choice for those who want meat from animals that were raised humanely to create the best flavor and quality.
FT: What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
AW: I made the decision to move off the farm after graduating and experiencing life in the city. But once I did I came to the realization that I really wanted to return to the family farm. Farming is a part of who I am and I missed it. I am grateful that I was able to move back to join my family’s farming operation and continue as the next generation. It means the world to me to know that I can carry on my family’s legacy working the land and taking care of the animals, something that my grandfather did his entire life.
FT: What is the best opportunity for young or aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs to get a foothold in America’s agricultural future?
AW: The best way to get started farming is to get to know older farmers. Build relationships with farmers who are getting ready to pass on their farm and traditions. The opportunity also involves finding people to help support you to get started. Farming takes support. It takes hard work and a little creative thinking. Niche companies like Niman Ranch are valuable assets to those who want to get started.
FT: How can we best stimulate young people’s curiosity about food and agriculture and encourage their participation in building healthier food systems?
AW: Niman Ranch does a great job of bringing people to the farm to see how the animals are raised. When people can touch, feel, and be a part of the farming process, they truly get to experience it. People can get involved and find out how different farmers are doing things and the reasons we do what we do. They can then make educated choices at grocery stores and restaurants. Visitors develop a true understanding about the important connection between the farmer and their livestock, and see that we also get attached to and connect with the animals. When you have a connection with your food, you are able to understand the process from start to finish, and you appreciate the sacrifices that were made to deliver the food to your plate and the grocery store.
FT: What is the biggest change you’ve encountered in agriculture during your years farming?
AW: The industrialization of agriculture is the biggest change I’ve encountered in my years of farming. Independent family farms are rare.
FT: Have you observed changes in the number, size, and type of farms that are found in your immediate locale? What is your attitude toward any trends you may have noticed?
AW: There are fewer farmers and the farms are bigger. Many farms have become more specialized in one area and less diversified. This has also affected our community since there are fewer farmers and fewer people living and working in our rural communities.
FT: How do you see your role as a Niman Ranch farmer? How do you see your role in the community?
AW: My role as a Niman Ranch farmer is to be more diverse than conventional farmers. My role in the community is to encourage people to farm sustainably using traditional methods and follow their dreams.
FT: If you could broadcast a message about farming to people across the country, what would it be?
AW: There are several ways to farm; conventional farming or industrialized farming is not the only way. I encourage people to put their money toward good, quality, healthy food sourced from farmers who take extra care in raising their livestock humanely and sustainably. Take the extra time to learn where your food comes from.
Farmer Friday is a bi-weekly series featuring livestock farmers selected by Niman Ranch, a network of more than 700 family farmers raising livestock in a traditional, humane, and sustainable way. With more than 40 years as an industry leader, Niman Ranch works with small, independent family farmers and ranchers across the United States to encourage better food system practices. All Niman Ranch pork, beef, lamb, and prepared products are certified under the Certified Humane® program and available nationwide at both food service and retail locations.