Meet Your Maker: Heritage Foods

Updated: May 1, 2019

We’ve been buying pork from Heritage Foods for over a decade. They were among the first purveyors in town to offer a variety of meats from humanely and sustainably-raised meats. They’re the source for every bit of pork we sell—even, indirectly, our country hams, because Heritage sells pasture-raised pork to Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, who works her Kentucky magic on them and sends them back to us--cured, smoked, and aged--a year or two later. 

Heritage Foods was founded by Patrick Martins in 2001, when he was also serving as the president of Slow Food USA. He met a turkey farmer named Frank Reese, who was one of the only farmers in the country raising heritage breed turkeys—turkeys whose genetics could be traced back to before the American revolution. IN addition to being old and rare, those turkeys tasted much better than the bred-for-breast birds that were ubiquitous on America’s Thanksgiving tables and deli counters. Realizing that the survival of those rare turkeys was in jeopardy without a market for them, Patrick committed to selling Frank Reese’s flock—and succeeded. It was a strike against the genetic homogeneity of modern turkey farming, and a victory for a more biodiverse—and therefore more stable—food supply. 

It was soon clear that there were many farmers in Reese’s predicament: there were heritage pork farmers in the midwest who didn’t want to sell into the industrial commodity pork market, Native American lamb farmers in the southwest who were keeping ancient desert-adapted breeds alive, cattle ranchers in California, goat farmers in Vermont. If they were going to keep those flocks and herds of rare breeds viable, they were going to need a market. Patrick made it happen. Heritage Foods now connects heritage-breed farmers from New Mexico to Vermont to restaurants and home cooks from San Francisco to New York City, creating a network of support for a genetically diverse and delicious food system across the country. 

We took the staff to visit the Heritage Foods HQ last week as part of our in-house “Family Meal” project, through which we attempt to deepen our understanding of the food system that we participate in. We sampled a table of beautiful country hams and domestic prosciuttos from Broadbent, Bentons, Edwards, Cesare Casella; we snacked on pieces of lamb from the southwest and the northeast; and we left remembering that a side of bacon or a piece of sausage is far more than a simple sidemeat to offset our pancakes—they’re part of a small but increasingly vibrant economy that we’re proud to support.

When you eat your next piece of bacon at Egg, enjoy the knowledge that you’re supporting a more genetically and economically diverse food supply; you’re sending your money to small farmers who work overtime to do the right thing by their animals, their land, and their communities; and you’re getting a damn good bite to eat in the bargain.