What do you raise on a small pig farm? Small pigs, of course.

350 Farms is a small pig farm near Ethel Lake in the M.D. of Bonnyville. They specialize in producing kunekune (pronounced “koo-nee koo-nee”) pigs, a smaller pig breed originally from New Zealand.

In the Maori language, “kunekune” means fat and round—an apt description, though the pigs only reach about 90 kilograms or 200 pounds. They thrive mostly on pasture grasses, which makes them easy to raise on a small operation and gives their meat a richer colour and a distinctive flavour compared with larger domestic pigs.

Kasey Marshall and Renaud Thys own 350 Farms. Marshall says having smaller animals means they can use less land than with typical large hogs, while still raising the kunekunes in a pasture setting with access to mud wallows and shady bushes in the hot weather. 

“We want to raise a really high-quality product that benefits the public and gives people another option,” she said.

The pork industry has been faced with some image problems after stories of gestation pens and factory-farming techniques reached the public. Marshall said the 350 Farm operation is the exact opposite of that.

“For us, it’s about how it’s raised—and there’s a lot of people who raise them very well, there’s no denying that,” she said. “But for us, finding something we could do that would help the community and utilize the land correctly was a really good thing.”

The land, which they acquired just over a year ago, had been under-utilized. Marshall said it’s not suitable for crops, but the pastures are perfect for the little pigs. The farm also raises a couple of cows and goats to keep the grazing consistent, some Tamworth pigs, and a few chickens.

But the kunekune is their signature product. Marshall says the meat is a bit different from supermarket pork: the fat is distributed differently and the pork flavour is more concentrated.

“Their fat is different than what you would expect for a cow or a normal pig. It’s not a gristle, it melts in your mouth. It has a lower melt point so you can actually cook it longer, render that fat out to bring the flavour into the meat,” she said. 

The meat is a red or dark pink colour. “It really has that flavour profile, more of a grass-fed beef. So you’re getting a more earthy flavour,” Marshall said. “It doesn’t taste different than another type of pig. It’s just a little ‘more’ pig. It’s not gamey, it’s just more earthy.

“And then the marbling. I don’t care if you’re the worst cook in the world, you can make these taste amazing and you won’t dry them out.” 

They sell their own products through their website or at the farm. They also offer goat’s-milk soaps and other gift items.

A unique part of the 350 Farms operation is their “glamping” experience.

“Glamping” is a kind of glamorous camping—guests are housed in large, well-appointed tents with a solid floor. 

The sites are all located within a five-minute walk of the main barn. The canvas bell-tents are about 400 square feet inside, with beds, chairs, and couches. “You have pots and pans, propane stove, picnic tables, firepit, everything you could want camping,” Thys said.

“You just bring your suitcases. One of us will take a vehicle to bring their luggage to the tent, and the other one will walk with them on the trail, tell them a little bit how things work, where the trails go and things like that.

“We try to make it as personal as possible with each guest.”

The glamping sites have been popular for everything from personal retreats to honeymoons and family gatherings. Thys said they often have grandparents enjoying the experience with their grandkids, showing them farm life up close.

“Bug spray, a good book and they are happy,” Marshall adds. “We have a wood-fired pizza oven that we let people use, or we make pizzas with and they just kind of hang out or come up here and have that camaraderie.”

Thys is an instructor pilot at 419 Squadron, which trains pilots for the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program. The name 350 Farms is a tribute to 350 Squadron, his first squadron in the Belgian Air Force.

350 Farms participated in Open Farm Days in 2021 and 2022.

A kunekune pig finds a shady spot for an afternoon siesta. JEFF GAYE
Shadow keeps watch for coyotes and keeps the other farm animals safe. JEFF GAYE