Meet the Farmer: Alessandra Rellini from Agricola Farm in Panton
PANTON — Alessandra Rellini always wanted to raise her own animals. So when this Italian native was recruited by the University of Vermont to teach in the Psychology Department, she saw an opportunity to pursue her farming dream in the Green Mountain State.
“The opportunity allowed me to cultivate the idea of raising my own animals and doing my own butchering,” she said in an interview at the end of March. “But then things spiraled out of control.”
She started with three little pigs… Now, 11 years later, Rellini has 90 pigs, a flock of chickens and upwards of 27 Icelandic sheep. With the help of Stefano Pinna, Andrew Sheets, Tirragen Vixie, Drew Anderson, Rellini and her daughter Eva, Agricola Farm offers meat and homemade pasta CSAs; a farm store with meats, pastas, and other local products; monthly authentic Italian lunches and dinners; and local butchering. If that’s not enough to keep someone busy, Rellini has maintained her full-time job at UVM since moving to Vermont in 2006.
Why go to all the trouble of farming? Well, Rellini was missing the flavors of home. “It was hard to find the cuts of meat that I wanted and the taste was just not the same,” she explained.
So, what else was there to do? With a few trips home to Italy to learn about the way pigs were raised and how to develop good flavor, Rellini has crafted her own technique and lifestyle to create a superior taste and farm-way-of-life.
“Everything we do on this farm is for the fat,” she said. “Because the fat is the most important part for the flavor… The lard has to be either snow white or have just a hint of pink — absolutely no yellow.”
Pinna, an Italian agronomist, came to the farm two years ago and is in charge of the crop rotation for grazing. He plants the food the animals eat, and since you are what you eat, some might say Pinna is the flavor-master. Rellini said her pigs eat about 30 percent of their diet in the fields.
“It’s taken us 10 years to figure it out,” Rellini said of the pigs’ diet. “The Italian diet didn’t work for our pigs… we did a lot of exploration.”
From about May to December the pigs are out on pasture, eating a mixture of field greens, sorghum, rye, barley, oats, wheat, leftover fruits and veggies from Tomgirl Juice of Burlington, spent grains from distillers and brewers, and Myer’s Bagels from Burlington. Every three to four days, the pigs are rotated to different fields.
Because of this unique diet, Rellini’s pigs grow slower than conventional pigs fattened on corn and soy. This means they take longer (more than 14 months) to grow to full weight. “It’s a more mature meat and flavor,” she said. “It’s not as sweet and is very complex.”
When the pigs are ready to be butchered, Rellini takes them to the Mad River Food Hub — a USDA facility in Waitsfield — where she rents space to butcher her own product. The cuts are sold to individuals directly, to local chefs and in the Panton farm store.
Though the land at 2674 Jersey St. has been in farming since the 1800s, Rellini and Agricola Farm have only been in the Panton community for two years. Prior to that, they were located in Williston, Monkton and Hinesburg.
“There’s great support from the town and community here. People call us the farm with the pigs outside,” Rellini laughed. Sometimes her pigs — or sheep, or chickens — take a little extra freedom and mosey out of their area. But Rellini has it under control with the help of her farm assistants and neighbors.
To learn more about Agricola Farm’s products, CSA or upcoming events, visit www.agricolavermont.com.
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