Shift Drinks: Tom Wriggins


Tom Wriggins raises pigs, cows and sheep at Wriggins Hilltop Farm in Nobleboro, Maine. He is pictured here with a Hendrick's Martini with extra olives.

Why the Hendrick's Martini? 

The Hendrick's Martini is a classic. I am a classic sort of guy. A real Martini is made with gin; it is not a Kangaroo, which is the vodka version. A lot of people are into vodka Martinis but I am sort of a purist and so I like a gin that tastes like gin and a bunch of olives so you get a meal and a drink at the same time.

It's not because I think I am better than them, but I don't ever think of vodka Martinis. It just doesn't seem natural. 

I was recently in Princeton, New Jersey, and there is this place called Salt Creek Grill that I typically go to because they have half-price bottle nights on Mondays. There is a bartender there who is in training and I was quizzing her. I pointed out that they had all of these Martinis on their cocktail list, but they're all made with vodka. I asked if she knew that a Martini is not actually made with vodka—that's called a Kangaroo. I am totally blown away because nowadays everybody wants these vodka Martinis, which is great, but that is not a Martini. I like the gin and Hendrick's has a nice flavor to it. You add a few olives and you're good to go.

Why did you become a farmer? 

I could get up on the soap box and talk about how it is all about knowing where your food comes from, which I do truly believe in. We have seen all of the recalls across the United States of hamburger meat. That generic, brown hamburger you might pick up at any grocery store could have 600 different cows in the makeup of that pound of ground beef. It is about knowing where your food comes from, what you're eating, and knowing your farmer. I have been blessed with having enough land to raise a few head of cattle, a few pigs, and a few lambs. We like to know where our food comes from. That's really what it's all about.

The other side of that is that I have four freezers and I have a lot of ammunition. When the shit hits the fan and the zombies start coming up from the cities and looking for food… Not to be alarmist about it, but if I were a terrorist and I were looking to cripple the United States, I would do that through the food system. There are only about 12 large scale meat packing plants in the United States and those are controlled by McDonald's. If I wanted to make some sort of dent in this country, I would interject some kind of a toxin into the food system. Part of why I do what I do is so that I can survive, support my family, and feed my friends and family while keeping away those that are trying to take what is mine.

Why are you drawn to pigs in particular? 

We do more than just pigs, but I really enjoy them. We raise a few lambs for our own use and they are a stupid animal. They are literally the dumbest animal I have seen. When we go to load them into the trailer, they will run to the middle of the field and put their heads in a corner as if you can't see them. They're just dumb. Cows are only about one step above them.

When you look at a pig in the eye, when they look back at you, you see that they are very intelligent animals. They understand what is going on. I am sure people will laugh at me, but one of the things I have always noticed is that when I take them to the abattoir… We use Curtis Meats in Warren, Maine and these guys that do the slaughtering, they see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of animals. If somebody could get really jaded about that process and become careless and abusive, it would be those guys. But they really care about what they are doing and care that the animals are most comfortable they can be. They always make the comment that they like working with my pigs because I back my trailer in and all I have to do is shake the grain bucket, say "C'mon pigs," and they come right in. It is almost like they are giving me the salute where they are saying, "Thank you for the good life. We're ready to go on to feed you." I enjoy them. They have intelligence. They think, they're funny, and they are a joy to work with.

And our pigs eat a 90% vegetable diet. The meat is amazing. We work with 555 in Portland and theyget a whole pig from us. They will do a months worth of boutique pig products, including Prosciutto, head cheese, and other nose-to-tail type of stuff. I really enjoy raising them and I really enjoy eating them.

What do you most enjoy about doing this work in Maine?

Outside of me, your Shift Drinks series has really been focused on people in the industry. I guess I see myself as existing a little bit within the industry, but also a bit outside of what's going on because I am on the farm. From the perspective my paying job, where I travel all the time, I see that in Maine we take for granted how accessible locally sourced, farm-raised food is. When you travel around the country, you see that it is sort of unique. That expectation is not as prolific in other places as it is in Maine. I feel really blessed and lucky to be able to live in a place where so many chefs, restaurants and farmers work together to bring great product, whether it is animal, vegetable, or liquor, into the market. We live in a great place. I almost want to blow all the bridges and keep everybody out.

NOTE: This interview originally ran in the Summer of 2014.