More than once when a delivery threatened to fall through, Kremer personally crisscrossed Missouri to collect the hogs and transport them to the slaughterhouse rather than lose a valuable customer. To this day he ruefully recalls a deal to supply hot dogs to the luxury suites at Busch Stadium that fell through when a manager the co-op had hired screwed up a delivery. ("I was devastated," says Kremer. "But I've vowed to get us back in there.")

Management was a perennial problem; the co-op shuffled through seven hired managers before finally concluding that one of their farmer-owners, someone financially vested in the organization, had to take the day-to-day reins.

As member Danny Lewis sums up, "It's pretty much a minor miracle that the co-op has survived to this point and has a chance of being successful."

The co-op's sows, like this Tamworth/Swedish Landrace, give birth in spacious straw-filled pens.
Michelle Hudgins
The co-op's sows, like this Tamworth/Swedish Landrace, give birth in spacious straw-filled pens.
Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative founder Russ Kremer
Michelle Hudgins
Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative founder Russ Kremer

But in the age-old practice of agriculture, in which cooperatives are nothing new, Ozark Mountain is an innovator. One of dozens of efforts to organize hog farmers after the market crash of 1998, the group comprising Kremer and his partners is one of only two pork co-ops that remain in operation ten years later. (The other, Meadowbrook Farms, headquartered in Belleville, Illinois, does not concentrate on sustainable production.)

Today the co-op's farmers say the future has never looked better. Membership has swelled from 34 to 52 members, with new inquiries coming in weekly. In 2007 the group recorded its first profit ever — a humble $1,000. The co-op has increased its gains each month so far this year. "It's an achievement to finally break even," says Kremer. "For six whole years, we were wondering whether we'd be able to keep the doors open. Now we know we can."

And the pork is finally for sale at a number of outlets in Missouri, including the Sappington Farmers' Market on Watson Road in south St. Louis County, an old grocery store acquired this year by a group of Missouri farmers led by Kremer who aim to get more of the state's rural bounty into the city.

"We're back knocking on doors at Schnucks and such," adds co-op member Bill Heffernan.

Kremer says he foresees the day when Missouri grocers will scan Heritage Acres meat and customers will see a photo of the family that raised the pig that produced that very cut. "There would even be a little invitation from the family," he says. "Like, 'Come down to our farm and see what we're all about.'"

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1 comments
nickgover
nickgover

Wow, that's awesome.  I'm going to order my first product as soon as I can. I saw online that the bacon was out of stock so hopefully more will be available soon.

 
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