In the age of grocery store shortages, we all need to know our local producers of small batches of food better. In Eldon, we’re fortunate to have Carl Blake, a transplant from Iowa, who took the artisanal pork world by storm. His farm, Rustik Rooster, offers us another local heritage farmer drawn to the area. Fortunately, Carl found small butchers ready to process meat, which is why he moved his thriving farm from Iowa to Eldon.
Blake was featured on Bizarre Foods Delicious Destinations with Andrew Zimmern while a farmer in Iowa in 2013. This appearance has grown into other appearances on the national scene with articles in The New York Times, an appearance in The Stephen Colbert Report and Somebody’s Gotta Do It’s with Mike Rowe.
He even had a short-lived Nat Geo TV show called “Little Pig Man” featuring his family farm in 2014.
âBizarre Foods was looking for iconic culinary figures from the state, and the chefs they spoke with referred the show team to me,â says Blake of how his first TV appearance came about.
Blake is humble for a minute, especially about his character on TV. âI have a face made for the radio,â he jokes. But he confidently struts around New York City in his signature dungarees with a hanging strap over the shoulder in his YouTube videos, while posing for photos with Times Square’s Naked Cowboy. It’s not what you’d expect from a former engineer at an Apple Computer company – it’s what you’d expect from a guy running a farm between Eldon and Tuscumbia, even when he visits New York City. Blake is true to himself and where he is from, and extremely confident with what he does for a living.
Blake appeared on The Tiny Sirko Show holding and cuddling a baby pig, then produced a documentary with the company title Jackson Wild Media Pork. 0.
Pork.0 follows Blake as he battles factory farming by inventing his own breed of pig. A Jackson Wild Media statement about the documentary describes him as “Former computer engineer who returned to the farm after a terrible car accident, Carl is changing the pig system by producing some of the tastiest and happiest pigs, all using sustainable methods. He achieved fame and success, but did not complete his quest to make the perfect pig. Pork.0 is not only about a farmer who wants to give back responsibility to pig production, but also a selfless man who will stop at nothing to change a faulty system. You see the scars of what the meat industry (especially the pork) has done in the Midwest, and tell the story of a guy who successfully battles that by doing it the right way, and with a pig that he himself invented was something that really interested me. Filmmaker Brett Kuxhausen was also quoted about the documentary Pork.0 when asked “What impact do you hope this film will have?” “
âI hope this makes people think twice about where their meat comes from and how it is raised. My goal is not to make anyone vegetarian, but I think we need to eat less meat and eat it more consciously. I also really hope it challenges preconceptions about what the contemporary American farmer is, âKuxhausen said.
The documentary Pork.0 is available online on Vimeo.
Blake started out raising pigs for county fairs in his youth. Then he discovered a love for computers. His brain tinkering, even in college, led him to a career in creating internet portals for Apple. But farming was still called Blake, and with an obsession with finding the perfect taste of pork, he used that ingenuity and put it to use to crossbreed a breed with exceptional taste – a more meaty, smoother and fatter breed. than commercially bred 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 across the country have been knocking on its door for delicious artisanal pork since it first appeared on television. Blake’s pigs are not fed a normal diet. He raises plots of hydroponic barley which are distributed to the lucky herd who also benefit from plenty of grazing time.
If all of these ventures aren’t enough, Blake’s engineering methods never seem to stop. Perhaps this is why world famous traveler and chef Andrew Zimmern calls his friend a scholar. He started building American Hot Box, a self-made metal pork roasting pan designed for 100 pounds of fatty goodness that you can easily roast in four hours, rather than dig a pit and drop a pig into the ground overnight. . It was very popular, especially with the custom logo option available on the box. Blake delivers hotboxes nationwide, often appearing himself with a pig ready to go in the box, educating new users on the art of whole pork roasting. This industry has caught the attention of Menards, who now offer the standard version of Blake online.
It’s hard to believe that all of these businesses sprang from Blake’s rural Miller County farm, where he continues to build the hotboxes in his store and raise pigs for nationally renowned chefs. It delivers hotboxes and pork to New York, San Francisco, St. Louis and Chicago.
Blake also enjoys deli meats and has struggled to dry and process some of his pigs, one of the reasons he moved to Eldon from his farm in Iowa. âI moved here because processors stopped butchering for small farms,â he said. “The huge amount of snow in Iowa is another reason I moved here.” Still not finding a butcher who can treat, he put his intelligence to work and began to care for the pigs himself.
âAfter recreating an 1821 pig as best we could, I think we’ve really come close. The pig winning many contests and appearing on Andrew Zimmern, Mike Rowe, Colbert Report, New York Times, Professional Farmer and hundreds of other publications, the one thing I hadn’t been able to to do was to get our pork cured and aged, âsays Blake. “Sitting down and waiting for it to heal is the hardest thing, after all hell and everything I had to go through to get to this day … it was worth it.”
Indeed, Blake’s adventure in self-healing has won him awards in San Francisco and elsewhere.
Many local FFA students will understand this struggle, working for that award-winning slice of ham or bacon at their county and state fairs. Unless you are the parent of one of these students, you don’t really understand the time that goes by in self-ripening meats.
The tall ponytail farmer, still dressed in denim, can be seen off the farm giving pork roasting seminars in New York and Connecticut for American Hotbox. He has a relationship with Andrew Zimmern who has declared Blake’s Swabian Hall pork to be the best it has tasted in the whole world, supplying Zimmern restaurants with his breed of pork.
âCarl has big ideas, radical in a way, but rooted in the way we farmed and fed a few generations ago,â Zimmern says of Blake on his website (andrewzimmern.com). âHe has successfully established several new breeding programs, including his Iowa Swabian Hall stellar pigs. He discovered how to raise better tasting, healthier and affordable pork for everyone. He created a sustainable food system and above all an economically sustainable system. Thanks to all the attention he receives, he is now in high demand for his pork. Ultimately, helping American family farmers solve our biggest health problem in our country is something we should all be investing in. Decentralize our food system, make healthier and better pork that costs less, reinvigorate our agricultural economy, and tackle food safety issues that are everyone’s responsibility. He’s also resurrecting the concept of a family farm, remaking his animals’ diets and at the same time stumbling across a cropping system that I think has global applications in solving food safety issues around the world. He is a scholar, and my friend.
The approvals are no grander than a farmer’s one, and Blake continues to produce his exclusive, now world-famous Swabian Hall in Miller County. Blake has been busy breeding a new variety of artisan 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 in his farm shop.
The pasture pork is for sale privately by messaging it on Facebook @RustikRoosterFarms, where you can also find information about the US Hotbox Pork Roasting Seminars.