The Cartwright family and the hogs that they raise have been living off the land together in South Texas for generations – but they weren’t always working together. Loncito Cartwright and his Peaceful Pork brand is a rare exception to the factory farming trend, but he’s not alone. His daughter Lily Ross, a 22-year-old engineer and yoga instructor, helps grow the livestock and an entire community of restaurants and shoppers has emerged to support ranchers like them. Her siblings Mary Russel and Lomenick help on the ranch when they’re home.

Each farmer and rancher has a different story, and the intent behind the Rivard Report’s new series highlighting local growers is to help connect San Antonians to the stories behind their food. That education might help prevent customers from falling for farm-to-table frauds, and it can even make the food taste better.

We all have to eat,” Loncito said. “It’s what ties us all (together). And when you start thinking about where food comes from, it elevates food.” 

Pigs aren’t native to Texas, but the first domesticated hogs in Texas broke free from their pens nearly 400 years ago. Spanish pigs were brought in to support the Spanish colonial missions that were established along the coast by Fernando del Bosque in 1675. The colonists allowed their pigs to range freely in their settlements, but as the population increased they began to roam the countryside around the missions. Many reverted to the wild.

The Peaceful Pork farm is tucked away in Beevile just 100 miles south of San Antonio. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
The Peaceful Pork ranch is tucked away in Dinero, Texas. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

A French attempt at a colony, led by Sieur de La Salle, shipwrecked in Matagorda Bay. They established Fort St. Louis around current-day Victoria, Texas, and one of them brought plenty of pigs. Eventually after mutinies and Native American attacks, the colony collapsed and the pigs escaped. Hog historians believe that a lot of the genetic stock of wild hogs in Texas today are descended from that colony. Peaceful Pork, in Dinero, Texas, is just 100 miles away from that early colony. They’re the same distance from San Antonio.

Loncito, this generation’s Cartwright patriarch and founder of Peaceful Pork, is boisterous and jovial. Standing around 6-foot-2 and usually equipped with rain boots and a big grin, he attends to the hogs and his customers in equal measure. Looking out at his herd, he told us, “They are out there eating flowers, they are eating grass, they are frolicking.  They have a good life.”

Peaceful Pork’s land could hardly be designed better for hogs. With abundant mud pits and shade trees, the pigs have the option to relax or forage just as they would in the wild.

The hogs at Peaceful Pork are raised on an open range where they are free to reproduce with wild pigs. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
The hogs at Peaceful Pork are raised on an open range. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

“We started raising them here out in the brushland, just like where the wild pigs are, but in fenced in areas,” Lily said during a recent visit to the farm. “It is like they are wild, living under the trees and the mesquite, eating the mesquite beans off the ground in addition to the feed that we gave them.”

Peaceful Pork pigs are a combination of “old world” and distinctive Texas breeds. Their livestock includes genetics of classic British pigs like Old Spots and Texas original breeds like Red Wattles. Occasionally ambitious feral hogs break into the pen and add their genetics to the mix.

“We try to control the numbers, but some wild ones in the group aren’t so bad. Piglets from wild hog litters are usually smaller, but there’s more of them,” Loncito said. They call them “free-love” pigs.

The ancestors of Peaceful Pork’s pigs today have been in Texas for hundreds of years. The Cartwrights boast an impressive Texan pedigree themselves. In the 1800’s, Lily’s great uncle bought the property in Dinero in the early days of the 1900’s. After fighting in World War II and graduating from Texas Tech, her grandfather Lon Cartwright joined his uncle on the ranch.

Lon eventually inherited the ranch with his San Antonian wife, Leigh, where they raised thousands of cattle and two children. The younger was “little Lon”, Loncito, who didn’t end up very little by the time he became a rancher himself. 

“All he ever wanted to do was be a cowboy,” Lily said. “He had been working with my grandfather since he was old enough to ranch.”

Unfortunately, in Loncito’s lifetime, the day-to-day of raising livestock has changed dramatically. Chickens, cows, and pigs in particular are now raised primarily indoors in extremely confined, unpleasant, and often unsanitary conditions known as “factory farms.” Today, 97% of all pigs consumed in the United States are grown in factory farms.

Peaceful Pork hog are have darker and leaner meat. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Peaceful Pork hogs have darker and leaner meat. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

This is a new phenomenon. While the number of farms dropped, each farm grew larger and moved further and further from traditional farming. Between 1992 and 2002, the number of pig farms in the U.S. fell by 67%.

Lon and Loncito’s cattle dwindled and then disappeared as factory farms could produce many more cows at a lower cost. Without customers devoted to their local products, they slowed down their operation and Loncito moved away to work in real estate and then insurance.

Then in the early 2000s, the modern farm-to-table movement strengthened, and some consumers began paying more attention to locality and sustainability. Austin was one of the earlier cities to develop a real market, so in 2005 Loncito started ranching again, producing lamb for the downtown Austin farmers market.

“I like ranching,” he said. “I’d rather be a poor rancher than a rich real estate man or insurance man. I’ve done them, and I did fine, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I want to feed people.”

As the movement grew, he expanded to restaurants in Austin and eventually San Antonio. He began growing pigs a few years ago, and now Peaceful Pork is his main focus. Consumers with a preference for locally grown, free-range style food are still a recent phenomenon, but their numbers are growing every year.

Today, customers can find Peaceful Pork in San Antonio at Southerleigh, CuredThe Clean Plate, Sancho’s, 5 Points Local, Stella Public House, Fairview Coffee, Alchemy, The Cookhouse, The Cove, Blue Star Provisions, and Farm Connection. They also sell at many restaurants in Austin and a delivery service called Farmhouse Delivery.

Pork from Peaceful Pork is prepared at Cured. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Pork from Peaceful Pork is prepared at Cured. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

The next generation of Cartwrights includes Lily, whose dual career in engineering and yoga instruction may hold hints for the future of local food production. Driven by an emotional connection to the land that comes from growing up there, she spent time ranching cattle in Brazil and graduated with a degree in environmental engineering at the University of Virginia. With a classic ranch childhood, a new-age-yoga spirituality, and a calculating scientific tool set, the Cartwright ranch will draw from its roots and branch out to new forms.

“I’ve always known I will be a part of this land my entire life,” she said. “I hope that our ranch can act as a spring board for other farmers who need a place to develop their own sustainability ideas.”

She looked out over her family’s landscape.

“There are so many amazing people out there doing this work, I’m just excited to be part of it all.”

CORRECTION: This article and accompanying video have been edited to reflect that wild hogs are not allowed to freely mate with Peaceful Pigs. Ambitious wild hogs do, however, sometimes break into the fenced-in farm.

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Mitch Hagney is a writer and hydroponic farmer in downtown San Antonio. Hagney is CEO of LocalSprout and president of the Food Policy Council of San Antonio.