The White Horse Tavern Executive Chef, Richard Silvia and proprietor, Leslie Hogan took an afternoon this week to visit SVF Foundation, a local non-profit foundation dedicated to preserving heritage livestock breeds from extinction.
As I have explained in my recent blog posts, sustainability is extremely important to me as a chef and our vision here at the White Horse Tavern. During our visit to the SVF, Leslie and I learned about SVF’s history and mission from Executive Director, Peter Borden.
The Alarming Loss of Heritage Breeds
U.N. Food and Agriculture studies indicate the world is losing one livestock breed a month. SVF preserves heritage breeds to maintain their valuable and irreplaceable traits such as resistance to disease and parasites, heat tolerance, mothering ability, forage utilization and unique flavor and texture qualities. The lack of diversity in our food chain makes our highly inbred, genetically uniform market breeds extremely vulnerable. One serious infectious disease could decimate an entire breed.
Rhode Island’s Vanishing Livestock Breeds
The lack of diversity in our food chain ought to be a real concern to us even on a local level. At the turn of the 20th century, for example, Rhode Island was home to 6,000 dairy farms; now there are 17. In the 1920s, 60 breeds of chickens were sold in the US; now the Cornish Rock dominates the market. In the 1930s, 15 breeds of pigs were raised the US; six of those are now extinct and just three breeds dominate the market. Just one breed of cow, the Holstein, supplies 93% of our dairy products.
An Idyllic Setting for Endangered Breeds
At SVF Foundation we toured gorgeous livestock pens, a state-of-the-art cryogenic lab where genetic material is frozen in liquid nitrogen tanks, Foundation offices and the famous and picturesque Swiss Village. We also met an impressive group of livestock professionals, scientists, landscapers and other farm folk dedicated to preserving this beautiful place and the animals that can insure a diverse food source for our future.
The animals were all in environments that were comfortable, humane, and impeccably well maintained. The breeds we saw included Ancient White Park and Dutch Belted Cattle, Tennessee Fainting Goats, Leicester Longwool Sheep, piglets, Cornish Rock Hens, and a handsome Border Collie named “Dakota.”
We also met a very special fainting goat named Chip. Chip was conceived in an SVF test tube and carried to term by a surrogate mother of the same species but a different breed. SVF has produced about a dozen of these “miracle babies” to make sure the frozen embryos, semen and germplasm they store are viable and ready to fulfill their mission of putting a little diversity on all our plates.
More to come regarding our visit, partnership and future lecture dinners with the SVF Foundation
Chef Richard Silvia
P.S. SVF will be open to the public on June 8th with tours, demonstrations and SVF heritage breed meats prepared by Julian’s Food Truck. Read more here.