Farmer leaves corporate life in Calgary to raise happy pigs near Airdrie
When farmer Chris Fasoli pushes open the wooden gates and enters a giant pig pen, his chubby animals come running. Their gentle grunts grow louder as more and more hurtle over, giant pink ears flapping with each trot.
“Good morning, guys,” Fasoli says, surrounded by a pack of pudgy pink-and-brown bodies, chomping on his boots and nudging his pant legs.
Fasoli, who runs Bear and the Flower Farm in Irricana, pats them on their backs and scratches their fat necks.
The one he’s nicknamed “Donkey” follows him around and gets too “bunty,” so the 36-year-old yells “git” and flaps his arms to shoo her along.
Donkey arrived at the farm at weaner size, or 50 pounds. When her time is up, she’ll weigh a whopping 250 pounds – having spent a blissful five months grazing on the farm’s natural grasses and chowing down on specially-blended plant-based pellets devised by a swine nutritionist.
With the abundant food, acres of rolling pasture – even their own private beaches along the banks of the winding Rosebud River – the animals are living the life of Riley.
“They live a way better life here than they [would] in confinement,” says Fasoli.
“We guesstimate our pigs, in one to two days, walk more than a pig in confinement walks its entire life.”
When Bear and the Flower started in the fall of 2015, Fasoli and his wife Jessica had a modest goal of selling 20 animals a month.
Now, the farm is supplying 30 a week with plans to expand further, he says.
Customers include high-end restaurants like Parc and Cibo in Calgary, and Hayloft in Airdrie, but anyone can shop their online store for sausages, ribs, tenderloin and more.
“I’ll go pork chop to pork chop with anybody,” Fasoli says confidently. “Put your pork chop next to mine, and put it to the customer. I’m going to win,” he says with a laugh.
Working in the fresh air, under the big blue Alberta skies, surrounded by hayfields, has been good for Fasoli’s health. He’s dropped 60 pounds since starting his pig farm – although some of that could also be the stress of starting a business.
When he and Jessica spend sleepless nights wondering about how they’ll make payroll, or pay their suppliers, or if their animals are okay, they go into the kitchen for an early morning “tea and talk.”
“We’ve had lots of corporate meetings at 3 a.m.,” he says jokingly.
Prior to the farm, Fasoli had a management job in Calgary, helping to run a family-owned manufacturing business. But after a somewhat acrimonious “divorce from his brothers,” he’s happy to ditch the suit-and-tie, long commute and rigid routine dictated by the ever-present factory bell.
Now, you’ll find him working in his socks, in a little office trailer plonked on the acreage just down the road from his home in Irricana.
Or he’s out in the fields caring for his animals. The former exec has mud on his shoes, and less money in his wallet, but his heart is full.
“I make one-third the money that I made working there, but I’m 10 billion times happier,” Fasoli says.
Down at the local pub in Beiseker, his buddies have dubbed him “Hippy Fasoli.”
“They give me a ribbing,” he says, “but I give it right back.”
Already, one of his chicken farmer school buddies has taken out the doors on his chicken barn, allowing his birds to roam free – like Fasoli’s pigs.
It may not be long before Fasoli and his pig operation help to “hippify” this part of the country.