Becky Clark accomplishes a lot in a week. She can look after her 10-month-old twin nieces for the day and watch Stranger Things in the evening. The next afternoon, she may butcher a 300-pound pig.
Clark, in a pinstripe apron, yellow dangle earrings and braided brown hair, spends her days butchering pigs and making artisan sausage.
“The job is absolutely disgusting,” she said, smiling.
Clark’s business, Pork and Pickles, is a six-month-old startup, and her pork cuts and sausages are paired with several kinds of homemade pickles. Production has grown from slaughtering one pig a month to one pig a week, she said.
The production center she uses to make pickles and sausage is a space she shares with local barbecuers — a two-story building with a wooden barn exterior in The Plains, right off a gravel road from U.S. Route 33. On the inside is an industrial kitchen lined with wooden tables. In the back is a seven-foot walk-in freezer stocked with 125 pounds of large and small sausage links, a finished product Clark ground out herself in a nine-hour day. She often finds herself in the kitchen until 3:00 a.m.
Becky Clark, owner of Pork and Pickles, prepares and dresses bacon in a warehouse in The Plains on Oct. 11.
Making sausage involves taking a proportionate amount of lean parts and fatty parts of a pig and emulsifying them together in very cold temperatures. Other ingredients can be ground or mixed in.
The process of making sausage is not visually appealing, Clark said, but compared to skinning and packaging cuts from a pig, it’s easier to find the beauty in sausage.
“I’m pretty immune to (butchering) at this point,” she said.
Others are not so lucky. One time, a friend volunteered to help her butcher a pig, but when Clark cut off the ears and peeled back the flesh, her friend almost became sick at the sight.
“And he considers himself a foodie,” Clark, 28, said, jokingly.
Many business owners and restaurants in Athens wouldn’t hack away at a pig carcass for part of their day, she said. But buying and using an entire pig is cheaper for any business, and it is why she started Pork and Pickles.
“It’s better for our profits. It’s better for our farmers,” she said. “No one else in Athens was following this concept, so I had to start doing it myself.”
Forty minutes away in Meigs County is Dexter Run Farms, where Clark owns about 20 pigs for her business. They roam freely and are grass-fed for their time on the farm, which is about six to eight months.
“They have to be out grazing, loving life,” she said of her pigs. “I will never use a pig (if) I haven’t been to the farm. If there was no handshake with that farmer, and I haven’t set foot on that land, there’s no way.”
Clark puts thyme in jars that will store red onions. She stores and prepares her food in the warehouse and sells it at different locations, including the Athens Farmer's Market.
Clark used to be a vegetarian, but when she realized she could support humane treatment of animals by owning free-range pigs, she began to buy directly from farmers and to use the entire animal.
The other half of her business is pickles. Though the pairing may seem random, it is intentionally thought out.
“(A pickle) cleanses your palette in between bites,” she said. Fatty foods and cured meats are complemented by “something that’s really acidic.”
Clark’s way of talking flavor and ingredients shows her culinary background peeking through. After earning her bachelor’s degree in geography from Ohio University in 2009, she decided to go to the Art Institute in Portland for a year. Before returning to her hometown of Athens, she worked at Cure, a Pittsburgh restaurant. Clark would butcher the entire animal for Cure’s dinner specials, an unorthodox method in restaurant service.
Clark’s only employee, Jen Sartwell-Jones, works nights. Sartwell-Jones used to be a personal chef. If Clark goes out of town, she knows Sartwell-Jones can hold down the fort.
Clark talks to Marne Wilson, left, and Shane Wilson, right, of Parkersburg, West Virginia, at the Athens Farmer's Market on Oct. 15.
When starting a business, Clark said the job is almost 50 percent paperwork because of the licensing requirements from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Sartwell-Jones helps with paperwork as well as the food, and she is even helping to design a new logo for the business.
When Clark makes sausage, it dries out for a few days and is weighed and vacuum-sealed. She recently made her seasonal coconut curry sausage, an odd yellow food that will be sold for $11 per pound. She often finds herself multitasking while making sausage, writing dates and poundage on the sausage as she simultaneously cooks pork bones down for stock and thaws out other cuts.
While Clark packaged sausage, Sartwell-Jone chopped five pounds of red onions — demand was so high they still needed to chop 70 more pounds of onions to pickle. The onions will be jarred and sold at the Athens Farmer’s Market.
Her customers usually contact her through her Facebook page or through text message. But sometimes customers just come to her in person. A regular, Louie, comes ready with a crumpled checkbook after he calls Clark with an order.
“He buys the scraps off me,” Clark said.
One time he bought pigskin, belly, pork butt, pig’s trotters, ears and shanks for a total of $214. She threw in the pig bones for free for his dogs. He planned to use the pigskin for pork rinds, a time-consuming ordeal, Clark said.
She typically travels to the customer to make deliveries. Jackie O’s Taproom on Campbell Street has been buying Clark’s pickles since July, and customers have noticed.
“We’ve been getting compliments on her pickles all the time,” Stacey Kamphaus, manager of the taproom at Jackie O’s Brewery, said. “Especially because they’re local, and customers love that.”
Clark pours heated juice from red onions into jars of thyme that will be used to store red onions in her warehouse in The Plains
Though Clark moves about the kitchen with ease and comfortability, the space she spends a majority of her time in is not hers. The countertops in the barn are sturdy enough for her to butcher pigs on, but she does not own them. By 2017, however, Clark wants to have her own space so she can expand her meat and pickle business. Right now, she only sells her products at the farmer’s market, but she will eventually expand her licensing to sell pork, pickles and sausage to restaurants.
Regardless of where she works, a distinctive smell will always fill the workspace.
“It smells like raw meat,” she said. “I definitely wouldn’t go out for a drink after butchering. I’d need a shower first.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated what Becky Clark is able to sell at the Athens Farmer’s Market. She is able to sell sausage, pork and pickles. The article has been updated to show the most accurate information.
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