Mark Justh of J & D Farms came to farming via the Army, Princeton, and managing JP Morgan’s brokerage business in Hong Kong. Now he is the CEO of Fleischers Grass-Fed & Organic Meats and farms over 4000 acres 35 miles SE of Syracuse. He does not have a website and does not sell at farmers markets. He sells to Purdy & Sons, the Piggery in Ithaca, and Fleishers in Kingston and Brooklyn.
In 2008, Justh purchased a decrepit cattle farm resplendent with its own lake of manure. Until this past year Justh worked closely with his farm manager, Jonathan Ling, who echoed Justh’s penchant for higher education and matriculated this fall to the University of Buffalo Law School. Utilizing the talents of his Amish neighbors and his 5 full time employees, Justh (with Ling’s helpful management) added buildings, renovated old farmhouses, rebuilt barns, and revitalized the land.
He raises Angus beef, pigs, goats, and chickens and leases the other acres to harvest 10,000 tons organic hay a year. Our conversation focused on his swine program.
Justh shared his story as if he were giving a powerpoint presentation to corporate managers wearing suits. I found it very flattering. His thoughts are outlined and clear and he throws in terms such as CapEx, price points, and inputs.
As when he is talking about the challenges of feeding his animals non-GMO grain (Genetically Modified Organisms):
Let me give you an idea of the price points. If you have Roundup Ready Corn - Roundup costs you basically $3/acre to basically wipe out any weed or living thing on your land. If you are actually going to do cultivating, which is what you have to do for non GMO, because you are not doing pre-immersion innoculation, it is about $65/acre.
So I was talking to row crop farmers and I was saying, “look I am really interested in buying a whole lot of non GMO corn.” They were talking about the price breaks and things like that. Organic corn right now is about $650-$700 ton, whereas traditional corn is about $200.
Just to give you an idea about how that would filter into how you think about sustainability. We are moving in that direction, but it is very hard right now to do it. Because you have to have the inputs.
Justh’s current workaround is to feed his pigs hay and barley instead of GMO conventional corn. He is also looking into alternative grains such as Tritacale - a 19th century hybrid of wheat and rye that is very high in protein.
His pigs are a cross between Yorkshire and Tamworth with a little bit of Berkshire. Swine genetics are a balancing act. Yorkshires have many piglets but they have a tendency to roll over their young (Yorkshires are the majority of those raised conventionally in the US, hence the argument for gestational crates to protect the piglets from being squashed). Berkshire meat is delicious but they farrow fewer piglets. Tamworth pigs are renowned for their foraging ability, their ability to survive cold winters, and their mothering prowess - but they take a long time to mature. Breeding can be a bit of a juggling trick, but rewarding and delicious.
Justh’s pigs roam outside, feel the sun, do not farrow in crates, and are fed real food. As Justh shared with a twinkle in his eye, “we were thinking that our motto should be that our animals only have one bad day.” Bard receives 3 of Justh’s pigs a week via Purdy & Sons’ Whole Hog program.
Cheers to knowing where our food comes from!