Retirement for one couple means running The Blackberry Pig Farm in Hawthorne
HAWTHORNE, Fla. — Most people who move to Florida with dreams of retirement don’t imagine buying a farm and raising pigs. But that is exactly what Alan and Linda Clayton are doing.
The Claytons, owners of The Blackberry Pig Farm in Hawthorne, have created a special bond with their pigs and take pride in practicing humane raising.
“They say never name your food, but it’s a way to bond with the animal,” said Linda Clayton, 75. “They know their names. It takes a pig about two weeks to learn what its name is, but sometimes they choose to ignore me.”
After retiring from 9-to-5 office jobs in Kansas City, Missouri, the Claytons moved to western Putnam County and bought a quarter-acre of land from Alan’s mother, who had purchased it in 1965.
The Claytons then built their current home on the property and purchased an additional half-acre.
“We didn’t know anyone or anything,” Linda Clayton said. “After a year of living in rural Putnam County, we were bored. So a neighbor was selling his little 5-acre farm and we decided, ‘why not?’”
The farm, which is half a mile away from their home, has a few chickens, turkeys, pigs and fresh produce. Originally, the Claytons wanted to tend to the blackberry crops that were on the land, but they quickly realized that they were too difficult to sustain.
Often the birds would get to the blackberries before they could harvest them, said Linda, and the financial return was next to nothing.
The Claytons decided to instead focus on raising the pigs the farm’s original owners had given them when the couple bought the property.
The farm’s name is derived from that journey.
“We started off with three pigs, and Alan decided we needed a few more girls and we would maybe sell piglets,” Linda Clayton said.
The Claytons had no experience with raising pigs when they started. They found a mentor who taught them the ins and outs of raising pigs and maintaining a farm.
“We’ve had a mentor that got us going right with the feed, right with the raising of them and that stuff,” said Alan Clayton, 70. “Like in any profession, you need to get a good mentor.”
After the Claytons began their piglet journey, they realized they weren’t selling. So they began marketing meat in 2013, Linda Clayton said.
Now they participate in three different farmers markets around North Florida. They are in Gainesville on Monday nights at the Grove Street Farmers Market located at Cypress and Grove Brewing Company. On Saturdays, they are in the Lake City area for the Farmers Market at Midway. And once a month, they make the drive to Ponte Vedra for the Nocatee Farmer’s Market.
The Claytons began with one freezer on a small cart and now have seven freezers on their property and a trailer to attach to their truck to take to the markets.
They have cut back on the number of farmers markets they go to each week because they are a lot of work, Linda Clayton said. But they enjoy staying busy.
“He’s 70 and I’m 75,” she said, “and it helps. It's amazing what being active does. Otherwise, we would be sitting at home watching old Westerns on the TV.”
After the markets, they often buy cases of produce from other vendors to take home and hand-feed fruits and vegetables to their pigs as a treat. Additionally, each pig that is bred on their farm is given a name.
Clayton said her husband will sing to the pigs, but ultimately being around them and talking to them strengthens their relationship.
In addition to their pigs, they also have three goats, chickens, cows, geese, a dog and two cats on their farm, which is located at 1704 Main St. in Hawthorne. These animals also have names, except for the ducks. Linda Clayton said she seems to be running out of names at this point.
In the 10 years the couple has owned the farm, they have thought about truly retiring and selling it. But they said they can't bring themselves to do it.
“We were talking about retiring from the farm,” Alan Clayton said, “But once I ran from 70 pigs down to about 15, Linda said, ‘No we’re not retiring.’ It'll take me about two years to get the numbers back up, so we are just going to have to continue. I guess my trip to the Galapagos Islands is pushed back until next year.”
The Claytons said they never imagined they would be running a farm and selling meat after moving to Florida for their planned retirement. But they both love the pigs and the social interaction with their customers and other farmers market vendors.
“Life is about experimenting with different things, and life is to be happy, enjoy it,” Linda Clayton said.