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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Myrtle farm makes it big

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mark Newman of Newman Farms in Myrtle, which provides pork to the top five restaurants in the country, watches over his hogs which roam freely in his green pastures. Photo by Jody Shackelford
Myrtle is home to Newman Farms; a unique family farm operated by Mark Newman and his wife, Rita, which provides pork for the top chefs and restaurants in the country.

"We raise a breed of pig called Berkshires. It is the highest eating quality pork in the world. The meat has a high level of intramuscular marbling. By that, it has higher water retention, which makes it more juicy and flavorful in the end product," Newman said.

Newman said he deals with top chefs in America everyday including Food Network star Mario Batali. "Mario is my biggest customer," Newman, who delivered 5,000 hogs to the food industry last year, said.

"We provide over 100 pigs a week for a marketing group in New York City called Heritage Foods USA. We are their primary pork producer," Newman said.

The Berkshire hog is an old breed from England that, according to Newman, has almost been forgotten in America over the last 50 years.

The Newman Farm at one time catered largely to a Japanese market for a number of years before finding their niche. "Back about three and a half years ago we got hooked up with Heritage Foods USA," Newman said.

The Newmans met an individual from Slow Foods, the parent company of Heritage, after reading a story in a publication. Newman contacted the company after seeing his alignment with their goals and after a six-month wait the bond was forged. "One day in August they contacted me and asked if I could provide 10 pigs for a trial slaughter at a processing plant," he said.

After pushing a 20-pig trial run, due to distance, the ball had only begun to roll for the Newman Farm. "We started initially with only 20 a month then it went to 20 a week," he said. Quickly his orders increased to 40 a week then 60 a week.

"Out of the top 100 restaurants in New York City, our products are on the menu of 81 of them. We do a tremendous amount of business in San Francisco, Phoenix, Atlanta and the east coast is just really hot," Newman said. "Probably 65 percent just goes right into Manhattan."

"We have a packing plant at Tremble, Mo., that strictly slaughters for us," Newman said.

The Newman Farm sells its product directly to their client instead of a distributor. "We sell the product directly to the customer and we use a distributor in that city to deliver the product to the chef," Newman said.

"We can make anything anybody in the world wants. If they read in a magazine about new cheek meat that is down under the jowl of the animal we have the capability. We can do anything," he said.

Newman explained that if a chef orders a product on Tuesday, he receives his order the following Tuesday no matter where he is in the country. He said 95 percent of their products are ordered as a fresh product although he does sell smoked and cured pork.

His products are featured in the high-end catalogs of Dean and Deluca.

"The big thing right now in the food industry is charcuteries," he said. Charcuteries are specialty hams, sausages and other processed delicacies including prosciutto ham, according to Newman.

The Newman Farm is raising pigs in a traditional way although Newman says in today's farming community it is untraditional. They feed their pigs no hull, raw peanuts to increase the flavor of their stock and let then wander in the sunshine and green grasses of their expansive farm with no antibiotics or steroids. In the Ozarks the Newman Farm is a rare specimen these days, Newman said.

"The Ozarks 40 years ago was full of farms that raised pigs the same way we do. Today, there are none of those farms. I mean, take the town of Imboden, it had a sale barn, Thayer, Alton, West Plains all had them. 35 years ago there were over 40,000 feeder pigs left within a 50-mile radius of West Plains, Mo., on a weekly basis. Today the closest market to sell a butcher hog is over 200 miles away. There is just no swine production left here," Newman said. "We might not be the only pork producer left in Oregon County but if there is I don't know where the second one is at."

With the current economic situation facing the country, the Newman's small family farm is no exception to the pressure, creating obstacles for a small rural pork producer.

"The price of grain has tripled in the last 18 months. Corn 18 months ago was $2, today it is in excess of $6. Soybean meal went from $180 to over $400. Everything we touch everyday is more expensive," Newman said. "At the same time we have transportation."

Newman has seen an increase in fuel prices that now leave him burning over $800 in fuel a week, he said.

"$600 of that is on the road transporting our product between here and our processing plant which is 350 miles from my gate," he said.

Although Newman can use other plants to process his hogs, he said he chooses the plant in Tremble because of its ultra-modern facilities among other reasons.

"It is a family that understands where our product is going to. They go the extra mile to do the extra things," he said.

The plant at Tremble provides Newman Farms with 189 different cuts of meat from Ossobucco to 10-rib frenched racks. "Anything any chef wants," he said.

The little farm from Myrtle made it to the top of the culinary pork chart but it is a title hard earned. "If you make it to the top, it's hard to stay on top. The people in the past have been on top for six months or on top for a year. We have been on top for better then two years and it looks like we can stay there," Newman said.

To stay on top the Newman Farm has a strategy that rivals most. "We bring a lot of our chefs to Myrtle. People would be greatly surprised at who we have through here. We show them our way of raising pigs. We explain why we do it, the way we do it and they really like that part," Newman said.

The chefs, who are also clients, get to understand what they are buying and serving to their customers. Newman said an important part of being a quality hog producer is how you treat the animals and that is why they are humane certified. "We have a certified humane inspector that inspects us on a regular basis and we have been antibiotic free for 10 years. That is a big selling point," Newman said.

From hosting an event featuring Iron Chefs in Atlanta to gracing the lips of Martha Stewart, the Newman Farm has made a name for itself in the culinary world while remaining grounded to its roots in Myrtle. Their products delight diners in America's finest restaurants including Wolfgang Puck's Spago in Beverly Hills, Calif., to Litia's in Kansas City.

From the pork raised on the Newman's farm, meals are prepared by master chefs from coast to coast in an unlimited and every changing arsenal of flavors and recipes, but Newman said his favorite way to eat his pork is the 10-rib frenched loin rack. "I really think my wife can make it as good as Mario Batali," Newman said.

Newman Farms is a small producer and Newman said he plans to keep it that way. He highlighted other pork producers that began much the same way he did and pointed out that they grew so large they lost something special. "There isn't a customer that we have today that wasn't their customer at one time," Newman said.

"You give them the product they want. Not the product you have to sell," Newman said.

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