by Courtney Llewellyn
LANCASTER, MA – When one hears the name “Lancaster,” often the first thing that comes to mind is the bucolic town in Pennsylvania renowned nationwide for its old school agrarian practices. This Lancaster, located in northern Worcester County, is known as the “mothertown” to most of eastern central Massachusetts. The towns of Berlin, Bolton, Clinton, Harvard, Leominster, Sterling and part of West Boylston were all carved from the original Lancaster. It’s in a built-up part of an ever-expanding Boston Metro region. It is not necessarily known for its agriculture.
A small pocket of livestock rearing does exist here, however, in the form of Kathy Dugan’s five-acre family farm and the 4-H club she advises, known statewide as the Bacon-aters. Chapters of 4-H that focus on swine are rare in Massachusetts – there are only two others that Dugan knows of – and this particular chapter limits its membership at 10. “There has to be a cap when you’re working with small children and animals,” Dugan laughed.
The Bacon-aters club started in 2015 with just two members. Dugan’s oldest daughter joined 4-H when she was six; she had a chicken who hatched, so naturally her other daughter had to have one as well. Several years after those first chickens, her family purchased their land in Lancaster and started farming with turkeys and chickens. Today, they have some Irish Dexter cattle and Tamworth cross swine. They raise mostly for themselves and sell the excess meat.
“Our girls leased cows when they first started doing shows, so our way of paying it forward was to keep hogs here that other children could show,” Dugan said.
This club teaches its members, currently numbering seven, about caring for swine from birth to plate. Dugan said the children love working with the animals and are involved in every step, from planning what they will do at fairs to taking responsibility for their health. Some of the club members have their own hogs at home; others only work with Dugan’s animals.
The swine are a “seasonal crop,” according to Dugan. They purchase piglets in the spring, raise them through the summer and then send them off to slaughter in the autumn. “One of the best parts is watching the kids try to train the piglets in the spring,” she said. “It’s like seeing them try to herd cats.”
The youth travel in from Lancaster’s offshoots as well, with current club members coming from Lunenburg, Leominster and Harvard. Over the second weekend in September, some of the 4-H’ers participated in the nearby Sterling Fair. More than 40,000 people attended the fair, but very few farmers had swine to show.
That’s fine for the Bacon-aters. “We’re raising dinner pigs, not show pigs,” Dugan explained. “We know we don’t raise the pretty pigs. But where we can shine is showmanship.”
The main goal of this 4-H club to help educate the public on where their food comes from, Dugan said. It’s about the responsible raising of animals.
“A lot of people don’t realize that meat has a face,” she said. “What the club is trying to do is help them understand where sustainable meat comes from.”