One of the best-known pork producers in Alberta began as a birthday gift of three little pigs.

Bonnie Spragg surprised her husband, Greg, with the piglets back in 2002, knowing his dream was to raise pigs of his own. Both had grown up on nearby farms that had pigs, and knew they needed to diversify their own mixed farm and attempt to generate a new income stream.

By summer's end, Greg and Bonnie had raised 75 pigs outdoors to market weight and sold 50, leaving 25 to keep the brood going.

"We didn't have a barn, so we took a few seminars on how to raise pigs outside. We tried it, and we'd never go back," Bonnie says.

The family's 200-acre farm grows crops of barley and faba beans to dry and grind into their own pig feed, and pastures are seeded with annual grasses to maximize grazing and foraging. 

Steady growth

By the end of 2005, Spragg's Meat Shop, with a retail outlet and their own processing facility, officially opened its doors in Rosemary, Alta. The operation allowed them to supply farmers' markets and select grocery stores in Calgary with their free-range pork, which is popular among local chefs and recognized on restaurant menus.

It's the pork of choice for many small producers who specialize in cured meats, sausage and charcuterie, such as Empire Provisions.

Now employing about 20, Greg and Bonnie do custom processing out in Rosemary (they'll make sausages, process or cure your beef, pork, lamb or wild game, or custom hang beef for up to 21 days) and are very involved in community initiatives.

They provide hogs for fundraisers and special events, like the annual Brewery and the Beast. That's a meat-focused food festival celebrating local chefs, brewers and producers and takes place this Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Pumphouse Park.

Spragg's Meat Shop Calgary

Spragg's Meat Shop opened a retail outlet at Macleod Trail and Southland Drive earlier this year. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Earlier this summer, the Spraggs opened a small retail shop on Macleod Trail at Southland Drive S.E. in Calgary, in a space that used to be Blu's Seafood Market.

Mini farmers market

With a butcher counter offering their own cuts of pork, sausages, cured bacon and hams, as well as beef and lamb from neighbouring farms, fresh veggies from Shirley's Greenhouse, and eggs and yogurt in the cooler, they hope it will become a sort of mini farmers' market that's not limited to weekends.

The store sells Brassica mustard, local honeys and sauces. An extended freezer space contains larger quantities of flash-frozen meat for those who want to stock up at a reduced price.

"Rather than be several places on weekends, we figured we'd be in one place, seven-days-a-week," Bonnie says. "So if people don't make it to the market on the weekend, they can still stop in and pick up fresh veggies and eggs."

And a few pork chops for dinner.