Vine to swine

Jo Douglas has some pigs.


You’ve just finished a delicious meal at your favorite Island restaurant. The busser comes and collects your plates, you pay the bill, and that’s that. 

But the vegetable trimmings and cuts of meat that didn’t end up on your plate, where do they go? Or the pastries left in the case after closing time, what about those? The journey of the lettuce stubs, uneaten Back Door doughnuts, and melon rinds usually goes one of three ways. Food waste is either sent to a landfill, the composting center at Island Grown Institute, or to Jo Douglas’ posse of pigs.

Jo isn’t just any regular farmer. At 27 years old, she has designed a company called Fork to Pork that utilizes all food materials in a sustainable cycle. After working on 12 farms and studying agriculture, business, and sustainable management at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., Jo knew that when she one day owned her own farm, sustainability would be her priority in ensuring responsible meat production.

The concept of Fork to Pork came to her when she learned about the huge discrepancy between food produced and food consumed in the U.S. According to the USDA, Americans waste 30 to 40 percent of the food supply. And without composting infrastructure in place, this means that food scraps are piling up in landfills. Because there is no active incinerator on the Island, most of Martha’s Vineyard’s food waste is stuffed in plastic bags and shipped to the mainland.

Another problem was clear to Jo: the malnutrition of livestock animals. Pigs are foragers, so their natural diet consists of a wide variety of plants and small animals. On large-scale farms, most pigs are fed a soy, grain, and corn mixture void of healthy vitamins and minerals. Many livestock farms, Jo said, are solely focused on fattening up their animals for slaughter. 

The combination of these two problems presented a clear solution to Jo. She would ask Island restaurants to give her their kitchen food scraps and stale food to feed her pigs. In exchange, she would sell the pork back to those same restaurants, and begin the cycle all over again.

Every day, she wakes up early and heads to CrossFit Martha’s Vineyard for her daily workout session. She eats breakfast (mostly vegetarian), and then heads to the Wapatequa Woods Land Bank Reservation to check on her 30 pigs and nine piglets. Then she loads her truck with 15 20-gallon trash cans and begins her daily trip to more than 40 locations: restaurant kitchens, grocery stores, and the hospital, to collect bucketfuls of their food scraps. After zigzagging across the Island, she hauls about 300 gallons back to her hog herd, and they happily chow down.

She arrived on the Island in April with a herd of 30 pigs, no land, and no food suppliers. She had no idea whether her novel business model would work, only that she would work hard to see it through. Five months later, Jo cannot keep up with the amount of food that she receives every day. 

“I’d like to do 50 pigs next year; I easily have enough food for them,” she said. 

We followed Jo on her pickup stops in Edgartown — beet greens from the Covington, melon rinds from Port Hunter, bread crusts from Rosewater. Building close relationships with Island chefs was an unforeseen benefit. 

“Some say that seeing me is the highlight of their day, which is so nice,” Jo said. 

Sure enough, when we walk into the kitchen of the Port Hunter, Executive Chef Nick Lepsy greeted her with a friendly “Hey!”

When asked what he thought of Jo’s business model, he said, “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s great.”

Every collection bucket is labeled with a sticker listing the do’s and don’ts for pig food. On the blacklist are meat, poultry, fish, onions, citrus, coffee grounds, and eggshells. 

The pigs squeal the loudest for carrot tops, beet greens, tomatoes, scrambled eggs, and romaine lettuce. The mix is a rainbow of the Island’s premiere cuisine. Even I’m envious of the smorgasboard laid out before them. Not only is the variety good for their stomachs, but it also provides mental stimulation for a highly intelligent animal. 

“The pigs are practicing their natural behavior of rooting around and foraging,” said Jo. “My veterinarian praised me for how well I’m feeding my pigs; she loves that they’re never bored.”

Jo’s squad includes a mix of breeds: Yorkshire, Hampshire, Gloucestershire Old Spot, Duroc, and Guinea Hog. 

When we spoke to Jo in early August, she had just completed the first loop of her business: She delivered her first round of six pigs to a USDA-certified slaughterhouse, Meatworks in Westport, and received them back as bacon, pork shoulder, ribs, the whole animal — dependent on whatever each restaurant had requested. 

Scottish Bakehouse received its first supply last week, which will be integrated into dishes like its egg sandwich, BLT, and Brazilian plate. 

As sad as she was to have her animals butchered, she is passionate about promoting the “best case scenario” of pork production. Also, she was excited to taste her final product to see if her plan had yielded pork as flavorful as she had hoped. 

And as it turns out, “the smoked shoulder was moist and full of flavor … my friends said it was the best pork they’re ever had,” Douglas said. 

The young farmer said she is “living [her] dream,” and she plans to continue to grow Fork to Pork on Martha’s Vineyard to include more restaurants over the next few years. Along the way, she hopes to share her business model with fellow Island farmers and at agriculture conferences.

Catch Jo and her pigs at the Ag Fair this weekend, where she’ll be competing for ribbons in the Swine Grades and Purebred categories. Follow her work on Facebook and Instagram at @forktopork.