A new crop of spring food books is piling up around here, and for partly egotistical reasons I was particularly excited about Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, a coffee-table menagerie of heritage animal breeds and heirloom plant varieties that features a short chapter on our favorite critter, the American mulefoot hog. A few months ago the book designer asked permission to use a couple photos I shot for the Whole Hog Project–one a closeup of a fused hoof, and another of a very pregnant Crystal during her days at Hillspring Farm. The book arrived a couple weeks ago, and there she was on page 148. Nice. Then I read the text authored by editor Gary Paul Nabhan, in which he confidently states that the mulefoot is “a breed with fewer than 150 purebred individuals being cared for today.”
That wasn’t even remotely close last year. Further, the chapter gives short shrift to the genetic research and promotional efforts of Arie McFarlen of Maveric Heritage Ranch, who has the largest mulefoot herd in existence. Writes McFarlen: “There is no possible way that there are only 150 breeding animals. Last year alone, Maveric Heritage Ranch registered 97 mulefoots. This added to the 150+ we have registered since 2005, added to the 110 we have on our farm, clearly indicates that there are more than 100 breeding mulefoots. Also, we have started over 25 breeders in the past two years, including the ones in Canada, who each started with a minimum of a breeding trio. That is another 75+ pigs.”
The folks at the mulefoot registry in Michigan, who likely have the most up-to-date figures, haven’t gotten back to me yet, but they’ve also started new breeders since I last checked in with them last year. So while I don’t imagine the population is anywhere near solid, things aren’t as dire as Nabhan portrays them to be. Given that, how should we look at the book’s estimations for things like Meech’s Prolific Quince, the Cui-ui sucker, or the (hilarious) Tennessee fainting goat?
Of course, Nabhan had no way of of counting the 17 new piglets in Argyle right now, but Valerie Weihman-Rock just sent some new photos (attached) and she says they’re ranging “far and wide” and frolicking in the creek.