From computer programmer to pork producer
In the era of grocery store shortages, we all need to get to know our local, small batch food producers a bit better. In Eldon, we are fortunate to have Carl Blake, a transplant from Iowa, who has taken the craft pork world by storm. His farm, Rustik Rooster gives us another local heritage farmer drawn to the area. Luckily Carl has found small butcherers willing to process meat adding to the reason that he relocated his successful farm from Iowa to Eldon.
Blake was featured on Bizarre Foods Delicious Destinations with Andrew Zimmern while still farming in Iowa in 2013. That appearance grew to other appearances on the national stage with articles in the New York Times, a guest appearance on The Stephen Colbert Report, and Somebody's Gotta Do It with Mike Rowe.
He even had a short run TV show on the Nat Geo channel titled “Little Pig Man” featuring his family farm in 2014.
“Bizarre Foods was looking for iconic food people to feature from the state, and chefs that they had talked to referred the show’s team to me,” Blake shares about how his first television appearance came about.
Blake is humble one minute, especially about his persona on television. “I have a face made for radio” he jokes. But he confidently struts around New York City in his signature overalls with one strap hanging off of the shoulder in his YouTube videos, while posing for pics with Times Square’s Naked Cowboy. It’s not what you would expect from a former Apple Computer company engineer — it is what you would expect a guy running a farm located between Eldon and Tuscumbia to don, even when visiting New York City. Blake is true to himself and where he is from, and supremely confident with what he is doing in life.
Blake appeared on The Tiny Sirko Show holding and cuddling a baby pig and then had a documentary produced with the Jackson Wild Media company title Pork.0.
Pork.0 follows Blake as he combats factory-farming by inventing his own breed of pig. A statement from Jackson Wild Media about the documentary describes him as “A former computer engineer who returned to the farm after a harrowing car accident, Carl is changing the pork system by producing some of the tastiest and happiest pigs, all using sustainable methods. He’s reached fame and success, but hasn’t finished his quest of making the perfect pig. Pork.0 is not only about a farmer who wants to bring accountability back to pork production, but also of a selfless man who will stop at nothing to change a flawed system. You see the scars of what the meat industry (especially pork) has done in the Midwest, and to tell the story of a guy that is successfully combating that by doing it the right way, and with a pig he invented himself, was something that really interested me.” Filmmaker Brett Kuxhausen was also quoted about the Pork.0 documentary when asked “What impact do you hope this film will have?”
“I hope that it makes people think twice about where they are getting their meat from, and how it is raised. My goal isn’t to turn anyone vegetarian, but I think that we need to consume less meat and eat it more consciously. I also really hope that it challenges preconceived notions on what the contemporary American farmer is like,” Kuxhausen said.
The Pork.0 Documentary can be found online at Vimeo.
Blake began by raising pigs for county fairs as a young man. Then, he found a love for computers. His tinkering brain, even in middle school, led him to a career building internet portals for Apple. But farming still called Blake, and with an obsession to find the perfect pork taste, he took that ingenuity and parlayed it into cross breeding an exceptional tasting breed — one that is more meaty, smooth, and fatty than commercially-raised breeds. Blake crossed a Russian wild boar and a Chinese variety Meishan pig, and came up with his unique and exclusive Iowa Swabian Hall pigs. Restaurants and chefs nationwide have been knocking at his door for the delectable craft pork ever since his appearance on TV. Blake’s swine isn't fed any normal diet. He raises hydroponic barley plots that are fed out to the lucky herd that also enjoy a lot of pasture time.
If all of these ventures aren’t enough, Blake’s engineering ways never seem to stop. Perhaps it’s why world-famous traveler and chef Andrew Zimmern refers to his friend as a savant. He began constructing American Hot Box, a self fabricated metal hog roasting box designed for 100 pounds of fatty goodness that you can easily roast in four hours, rather than digging a pit and dropping a pig in the ground overnight. It’s been very popular, especially with the custom logo option available screened onto the box. Blake delivers the hotboxes nationwide, often appearing himself with a pig ready to go in the box, instructing the new users on the fine art of whole hog roasting. That industry garnered the attention of Menards, who now offers Blake’s standard version online.
It’s hard to believe that all of these ventures have grown out of Blake’s rural Miller County farm, where he continues to build the hotboxes in his shop and grow pigs for nationally-known chefs. He delivers hotboxes and pork to New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Chicago.
Blake also likes charcuterie, and struggled to get some of his swine cured and processed, one of the reasons he moved to Eldon from his Iowa farm. “I moved here because processors quit butchering for small farms,” he said. “The huge amount of snow in Iowa is another reason that I moved here.” Still not finding butchers that cure, he put his intelligence to work again and started curing pigs himself.
“After recreating a pig from 1821 the best we could I think we got real close. With the pig winning many competitions and appearing on the Andrew Zimmern show, the Mike Rowe show, the Colbert Report, New York Times, Professional Farmer, and hundreds of other publications, the only thing I hadn't been able to do was get our pig cured and aged,” Blake explains. “Sitting around waiting for it to cure is the hardest thing, after all the hell and everything else I had to go through to get to this day...it was worth it.”
Indeed, Blake’s venture into self cure netted him prizes in San Francisco and elsewhere.
Many local FFA students will understand this struggle, working toward that award-winning ham or bacon slab at their county and state fairs. Unless you are the parent of one of those students, you don’t really understand the time that goes into self curing meats.
The tall, ponytailed, always denim overall-clad farmer can be seen off the farm giving hog roasting seminars in New York and Connecticut for American Hotbox. He maintains a relationship with Andrew Zimmern who declared Blake’s Swabian Hall pork to be the best he has tasted in the whole world, by supplying Zimmern’s restaurants with his breed of pork.
“Carl has some big ideas, radical in one sense, but rooted in the way we farmed and fed ourselves a few generations ago,” Zimmern says about Blake on his website (andrewzimmern.com). “He has successfully established several new breeding programs including his stellar Iowa Swabian Hall hogs. He has figured out how to grow a better tasting, healthier hog that’s affordable for all. He has created a sustainable food system and most importantly one that’s economically sustainable. Thanks to all the attention he is getting, he now has a lot of demand for his pork. Bottom line — helping America’s family farmers solve our biggest health problem in our country is something we should all want to invest in. Decentralizing our food system, making healthier and better tasting pork that costs less, reinvigorating our farm economy and solving food security issues is everyone’s responsibility. He is also resuscitating the family-farm concept, remaking the diet of his animals and at the same time has stumbled onto a grow-system that I think has global applications for solving food security issues all over the world. He is a savant, and my friend.”
Endorsements don’t get any grander than that for a farmer, and keeps Blake producing his now world-famous, exclusive Swabian Hall in Miller County. Blake has been busy breeding a new variety of craft pork developed for Missouri, the Ozark Mountain Wattle, which is a faster growing, meatier pig derived from his Iowa Swabian Hall crossed with an Andrus Red Wattle. He’s also making fodder boxes which are about to debut from his farm shop.
The pasture pork is for sale privately by messaging him on Facebook @RustikRoosterFarms, where you can also find information about the American Hotbox Hog Roasting Seminars.