By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
Isabel Buenaga grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, far away from farming. She went to Lehigh University, where she grew aware of many world problems and was frustrated by a lack of solutions.
Then, she spent the summer of 2016 working at a farm in Vermont. A solution to at least one problem – food waste – started to click. She spent the next few years traveling between Puerto Rico and the Northeast U.S., working at other farms. She started Pork & Greens in 2020.
Two years later, Buenaga is raising pigs and growing pea shoots and other microgreens on leased land in Rensselaer County. The combination brings together animals she loves, foods she likes, and a path toward a more sustainable food system she hopes to help build.
I visited the farm on a mild March afternoon, arriving a few hours after Buenaga brought in the first batch of piglets she plans to raise this year. As the eight-week-old animals oinked excitedly in their new pen, Buenaga and the farm’s assistant manager Emily Liebelt prepared part of the animals’ meal: milk, bread, buns, cookies, and bananas from the Regional Food Bank.
Pork & Greens pigs feast twice a day on such food bank goods along with spent brewer’s grains and whey. This blend gives the animals vital nutrients through food that otherwise would go to waste. As the piglets grow, their consumption increases. They go out onto pastures where they root out grasses and weeds, which can offer future space for the planting of greens and other vegetables.
Buenaga loves her pigs for their silly antics and fondness for belly rubs. She also appreciates how they help eliminate food waste. “Packages get broken or mislabeled, and the food inside them gets thrown out. In addition, a lot of the food we produce generates by-products like whey. Pigs are a good way not to let that all go to waste.”
Buenaga also grows microgreens and hopes to add additional greens. For now, she is starting small. In November, she joined the Saratoga Farmers’ Market as a new vendor and looks forward to her first outdoor season this spring.
This week’s recipe: Warm Spinach Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette