John and Patti Giem partner with Tammy Stone to raise Large Black Hogs at their Gemstone Farm
As John Giem neared retirement after a career as an executive with Wal-Mart, he had his eye on life at Beaver Lake in northern Arkansas or something similar, but his wife Patti had another idea.
“I’d started getting more involved in where our food comes from,” Patti said. “I’d come to Tammy’s farm here in Wright County (Mo.) many times, when her parents were still here and we’d become best friends. We kept visiting and talking and I thought it would be really cool to raise our own animals. So now, I’m truly a corporate wife who’s gone country.”
“And now here we are with Large Black Hogs, some Shetland and Dorper sheep, three brush-eating goats and a llama named Lou. Tammy is the real farmer, though,” John added with a smile.
Tammy Stone’s family, including her late parents, Albert J. and Nadine Stone and her grandfather, Cleveland “Johnny” Crain, has owned the farm just outside of Grovespring, Mo., for generations. Her grandfather, Albert P. Stone, was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps that built structures like the bridges still in service in Bennett Spring State Park. Forty acres of the family’s original land in Wright County is now Gemstone Farm, a partnership between Tammy and the Giems.
“My parents were dairy farmers when I was a kid and we had meat pigs until the hog market crashed in the late 1970s,” Tammy said. “They converted to beef cattle for quite a while then they got rid of all the cattle and just rented out the pasture before selling part of the acreage.
“It’s pretty neat to get back into hogs on this farm but it is totally different now. This is a Heritage breed and they are much heartier than the pigs I remember when I was a kid.”
John has enjoyed his transfer from the boardroom to the barnyard.
“I’ve learned, of course, that farming is a lot of hard work,” he said. “When we moved here, we had a lot to do in terms of infrastructure, improving the barn that was actually built by Tammy’s grandfather, as well as re-fencing and developing water systems.”
The same can be said for the Large Black Hogs they are raising.
“We have about 30 pigs right now, including two sows that each weigh about 400 pounds and a boar, Mr. Jingles, who weighs in at 800 pounds,” John said. “We researched the different hog breeds and found the Large Blacks. They are very docile and friendly.”
The breed is a hearty one and need little intervention from humans.
“Tammy and Patti were all ready with heat lamps and the like when we had the first litters but the truth is these pigs prefer to be out in the field,” John said. “They are not nearly as fragile as some other breeds and are really good at tolerating both weather extremes that we see here in the Ozarks, the heat and the cold.”
And while John and Patti have learned a lot about life on the farm, they’ve also found there is a great deal to learn in the marketing department as well.
“We are on one menu at the Public House Brewery, a restaurant in St. James. We’re also selling to a grocery store in Mountain Grove, and through the Farmers’ Market in Marshfield, the Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market and, of course, right here off the farm. We are USDA certified and we sell a premium product. Our animals are pasture-raised and humanely-raised,” John said. “The majority of their diet comes from the field but when we do feed, it’s with non-GMO feeds and no chemicals so that makes for slightly higher costs. Still, we are working to establish markets with local health food stores, offering a healthier product. We think as people continue to become more involved in their own local food sources, such as the farm to table movement, they’ll find it’s more than worth the slightly higher price.”