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Turns out, pigs can’t just eat anything.

The Department of Livestock (DOL) met recently with volunteers from the PEAS Farm to discuss concerns over the handling of pig feed. In 2007, the farm—its name stands for Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society—partnered with Rattlesnake Elementary School to provide food scraps from the cafeteria to the farm-raised pigs. Students and parents volunteered most of the labor and, ever since, the program’s worked without a hitch. It even garnered splashy coverage across local media for helping to close the food loop.

But DOL says feeding pigs isn’t as easy as dumping a bucket of leftover Tater Tots into a trough. DOL spokesman Steve Merritt notes that under state law, waste fed to swine must be heated to at least 212 degrees for at least 30 minutes. The dedicated volunteers from Rattlesnake Elementary have not been doing this, and the farm was surprised to hear that it was an issue.

“I had no idea it was against the law to feed waste to pigs,” says PEAS Farm Director Josh Slotnick.

Merritt says the main concern is foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious and sometimes fatal virus. It doesn’t affect humans, but can have a devastating impact on cattle, bison, deer and other hoofed animals. If the food scraps aren’t cooked, there’s a chance the disease could spread.

The surprising situation leaves the PEAS Farm in a pickle. The oinkers in question were recently slaughtered, but Slotnick isn’t sure of the long-term pig plan. He says Rattlesnake mom Andrea Stephens, who hatched the original partnership idea, is exploring whether they can continue feeding the pigs under the new guidelines.

Chances are they’ll abandon the program, and that stinks to high (hog) heaven. The PEAS Farm provides an incredible learning opportunity and local food resource to the community. But it seems we’re making it harder than it already is to be a farmer these days. You may remember last Thanksgiving, when the slaughter of three PEAS Farm pigs caused a different ruckus. The pigs were shot, which the farm didn’t realize was illegal within city limits. An apology and promise to never do it again wasn’t enough, though. Animal rights activists screamed bloody murder, turning the incident into an unfortunate circus.

It doesn’t appear that the latest pig flap will reach a similarly heightened pitch. Merritt stressed DOL supports the PEAS Farm’s mission.

“We’re not wanting to be a bootstrap regulatory agency or anything,” Merritt says. “We just want to make sure it’s done right.”

Fair enough, but we think the PEAS Farm certainly has the concept right—working to revive a lost synergy between urban and rural ways of life. The realities of that may be hard to swallow for some, but let’s hope they don’t get in the way.

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