After learning this past week of the sale of Niman Ranch, I called Paul Willis our Iowa hog farmer and co-founder of Niman Ranch Pork Company, to make sure he was OK. We were just beginning a week of Whole Hog dinners. The Niman Ranch name and the network of several hundred hog farmers who share animal treatment, feed and handling standards remain, but the company has not made it through this economy.  Read Pork Magazine story here.

Back in 2001 Maggie and I visited Paul and his family, here is a film from that visit:

We have been very close to Paul Willis, Bill Niman and former CEO Mike McConnell, almost from the beginning of the hog company, and we have seen how extraordinarily difficult it has been for them. The meat business is truly nasty.  In the early days of this restaurant, periodically there would be someone who would come by with some great meat from a new source. They would take our order, deliver some wonderful meat, but be out of business by the following week. Niman Ranch had been the only meat supplier to last, and develop into something true and substantial. They have been so important to us, and I would think to many quality restaurants and consumers, and to hundreds of old-style hog farmers who have been kept alive by Niman Ranch.

It turns out, Paul is fine. I had not realize this, but he’s the co-founder of Food Democracy Now, a group that has become successful advocates of a more sensible agriculture policy to our new administration. .

And, Paul promises to continue sending us a whole hog every week.