Rodgers Greens and Roots expands with a pivot to pigs

The farm has long been known for its standout produce, but in 2022, Ashley Rodgers decided to diversify by raising Meishan pigs

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Ashley Rodgers expanded her farming business in an adorable (and tasty) way
Rutabaga snacks on leftover veggies

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

Gray haze hangs over the fields of Rodgers Greens and Roots on a January morning. Squishing through the mud, farmer Ashley Rodgers apologizes for the seasonal untidiness. “I feel like winter is when the farm looks the worst,” she says. “Just because of all the mud and restarting for the season.” As we walk further into the farm, the air takes on an acrid aroma. It prickles the nose, but it’s also exciting—we’ve finally reached the “maternity ward,” where Rodgers houses her Meishan pigs.

Rodgers purchased her 64-acre farm, located on the Chattahoochee flood plains near Douglasville, in 2015. She soon made waves as one of the few female farmers in the Atlanta area, and became known for her standout produce, sold at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market and to restaurants around town.

In 2022, however, it was time to make a change. She realized that the veggie side of the farming business would take her only so far—diversifying was a necessary next step. “I was just trying to figure out how to keep my business alive,” says Rodgers.

Ashley Rodgers expanded her farming business in an adorable (and tasty) way
Rodgers Greens and Roots Farm is known for superlative produce, like these collard greens.

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

There was also a personal pivot, in the form of a divorce from her wife. Rodgers took out a loan to help cover divorce expenses and needed a side hustle to boost funds. Pigs are less labor-intensive than produce, which requires a lengthier process and much more maintenance. Pigs, on the other hand, get fed and need to be moved, but they’re mostly hands-off. “I’ve always wanted to do animals. That was always on the horizon for me,” says Rodgers. “I was waiting for the business to get to that point where I could bring that in. But then the divorce just pushed me.”

Jet black, with droopy faces and hair that resembles cactus needles (but feels much softer), Meishan pigs are considered one of the oldest domesticated pig breeds, with origins in China. When Rodgers added pigs to her farm, the docile, sweet nature of Meishans appealed to her. “I have never felt like pigs were all that attractive, but when I went to Clover Blossom Farmstead [outside Athens], and saw their animals and met them, I was like, ‘These are so cute.’ I was just drawn to them,” says Rodgers. The Meishan breed is also, well, delicious. “The meat is closer to beef in color and flavor,” says Rodgers. According to the American Meishan Breeders Association, the lighter lard renders at a lower temperature compared with standard grocery store pork, leaving a meat that’s more tender.

We stop to visit Rutabaga, a sow that’s expected to birth a litter any day now. Like an excited dog, Rutabaga trots over, playfully bounces her 350-pound body off my legs, and nuzzles my hands with her pink nose, demanding ear scratches, which I happily oblige—her large, floppy ears are buttery-soft. “I didn’t intend to keep her [from getting butchered], but she won us over,” says Rodgers. “Through the laboring process, you get to bond with them. I definitely didn’t have a bond with any of them, really, until they got pregnant and had the babies.”

When Rodgers bought her first pigs, from the breeder Wendy Patton at Imperial Meishans in Bartow, her lack of livestock experience gave way to a steep learning curve. There were a couple of “oopsie” litters, for example, when a male wasn’t properly castrated. Now she’s seen her pigs through seven litters and takes a batch monthly to Yoder’s Butcher Block in Montezuma, Georgia, where the pigs are slaughtered and processed into a variety of cuts. Various other parts are sold, too, including the lard, jowls, and feet. She sells the meat under the label Rodgers Pastured Meishans at Peachtree Road Farmers Market, and hopes to expand to local butcher shops. Eventually, she hopes to open a farm store on her property in a restored 1800s home and sell the meat there, too.

Ashley Rodgers expanded her farming business in an adorable (and tasty) way
Ashley Rodgers in the farm’s “maternity ward” with Winston, a Meishan piglet

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

More than a financial boon, the pigs helped Rodgers rediscover a lost feeling of excitement. They snapped the 37-year-old out of a rut and helped her find her way post-divorce.

“You get to raise an animal. Yes, it’s hard because you’re slaughtering some of them, but I can become attached to these moms, and the farrowing process is so beautiful,” says Rodgers. She recently witnessed a sow go into labor, and watched as it moved through the contractions into birthing the first piglet.

“Yeah, veggies are still exciting for me,” she says. “But this is way more thrilling.”

This article appears in our April 2024 issue.

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