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Photos: Family pig farm in Copper Center putting pork on an Anchorage bistro's menu

  • Author:
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 13, 2014

To get from farm to fork, pigs at the Van Wyhe Family Farm travel more than 200 miles from the grassy reaches of Copper Center in eastern Alaska along the Richardson Highway to the urbane confines of Torchon Bistro in South Anchorage.

Terry Van Wyhe's hogs are among the few available within driving distance of the restaurant that's forging a reputation for an eight-item pork tasting menu and a farm-to-table mission.

As of 2012, some 37 Alaska farms raised hogs. Most are in Southcentral or the Interior, with a few on the Kenai Peninsula -- but Van Wyhe is one of the few with an operation big enough to supply Anchorage restaurants. A handful of Matanuska Valley farmers say they hope to expand soon.

Van Wyhe raises 1,000 to 1,500 hogs a year. No, he doesn't name them. Many are 6 to 8 months old when they head for slaughter.

Along with Torchon, he sells to Crush Wine Bistro & Cellar -- and one of his hogs recently ended up at Seven Glaciers Restaurant at Alyeska Resort. Van Wyhe also sells to Mat Valley Meats in Wasilla and McNeil Canyon Meats in Homer. Both sell cuts from their meat counters.

To get to Torchon, hogs travel 160 miles to the state-run, prisoner-staffed Mt. McKinley Meat & Sausage in Palmer. It's the only slaughterhouse in Southcentral approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that can process meat bound for restaurants or retail customers.

There the hogs are killed, bled and butchered. Van Wyhe says a 250-pound hog will yield about 200 pounds hanging weight and less meat.

A Mt. McKinley truck makes the final 48-mile trip to the restaurant with the meat. Torchon Bistro chef Shana Whitlock cures, ferments, cooks or otherwise prepares everything from trotters -- the feet of a pig -- to the head cheese. House-cured bacon takes four days alone.

"I feel a personal responsibility to fight large agriculture on a micro level and this is my way of doing so, with each plate I sell sourced locally," Whitlock says.

Contact photographer Loren Holmes at loren@alaskadispatch.com and reporter Zaz Hollander at zhollander@alaskadispatch.com.

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