When David Borkowski first started Changin’ Ways LLC and his pig farm back in September 2016, he had no idea the property would be under 5 feet of water a month later. “It was all water as far as you could see,” he says of Hurricane Matthew’s damage last October. Borkowski showed me an aerial shot of the property submerged in water. It easily could have been a photo of a lake.
At the time, Borkowski was able to keep 13 of his piglets at a friend’s farm in Scotts Hill. He took a handful of others elsewhere, while about six hogs were stranded on high ground of the mostly submerged property. They were safe, but he and his friend, Bill O’Brien, had to venture out with kayaks full of food daily for about two weeks.
“Welcome to being responsible for pigs,” Borkowski says with a laugh.
Almost six months later, he and I stood on the same property—soggy from a recent rain but dry enough. Borkowski reminded me we’re not standing on his land; though, he promises he’s not squatting.
“Sometimes I might be accused of that,” he quips. “The property you actually see here is Bill O’Brien’s, who also runs Veteran Owned Veteran Grown. His organization extends to veterans to help with PTSD, mental [and physical] health issues, and get them out on the farm to help them cope and deal.”
Just two years ago, Borkowski was an active-duty Marine who had no knowledge of farming at all. (Aside from the occasional tomato plant that would inevitably fall to a hungry rabbit or bugs.) Other than having dogs and fish as pets, Borkowski had never dealt with livestock in his life. This all changed when he retired and met Kyle Stenersen of Humble Roots Farm near Poplar Grove.
“He needed help processing chickens,” Borkowski recalls. “I started volunteering every couple weeks, and it turned into kind of an internship and . . . one thing snowballed into the next, and Changin’ Ways was born.”
Borkowski started off with about 40 hogs to house on O’Brien’s property, where they both share responsibilities and acreage—now home to hogs, chickens and bees. It’s an interesting dynamic that works, even though Borkowski has a bigger picture and business plan in mind. He named his business “Changin’ Ways” because he was changing his career, but he wants to change how people think about food and from where it comes.
“I actually wanted to connect people from the food source to the table,” he tells. “I saw an opportunity with the hogs to get my foot in the door, and I knew I could make them profitable—at least enough to get me up and going with a customer base. . . . Along that same vein I’ve always been interested in getting more back to how nature functions and operates in regards to food. I love to hunt. I love to fish. I love to figure out how to provide.”
Borkowski always has been a foodie of sorts. In fact, once he completed his 23-year service with the Marine Corps, his family and friends thought he’d go to culinary school. After decades of missing wedding anniversaries, fishing trips with his dad, and family reunions, he decided not to jump into a demanding role as chef. Instead, he took six months to catch up on life.
For growth’s sake, Borkowski has purchased more pigs to help “clean up the bloodline” and make the switch completely to Berkshire. Separated by a low-level wire fence, in age groups and shaded by trees, pigs rooted around in the mud. They took a moment to snort acknowledgement of our presence. Borkowski pointed out a couple of red piglets with dark spots who were all farrowed at Changin’ Ways. They’re a mix of Duroc, Large Black and (maybe) Landrace.
“This is just an amalgamation of stuff,” Borkowski adds and gestures to the young pigs. “When you talk about [working with] restaurants and get[ting] them interested, I can’t say I’ve got a bunch of random pigs.”
Only three hog residents have names: Bill the boar, a Berkshire sow, Stacy, and Borkowski’s beloved 700-pound sow, Cinnamon. Stacy’s due to have her first litter in June and the aforementioned “muts,” so to speak, are the last drift from Cinnamon. Aside from being a wonderful mother—a necessary trait to remain on a farm as a farrowing pig—Cinnamon is towering. Her coarse hair is caked in dried mud, and dust plumes from her body as Borkowski pats her back.
“Cinnamon is the sweetest thing in the world,” he says. “We can’t get rid of her and we’d all probably cry for a week if we did.”
Borkowski can process about two or three pigs at a time, and he sells out within three weeks. He’d like to get up to six hogs a month. Right now he has about 50 pigs and needs to get to 80 once he finishes clearing trees and brush for paddock expansion. “It should be about 60 or 70 percent bigger,” he estimates.
As the pigs grow and age, they’re moved from paddock to paddock in order to give the soil a chance to recover. Keeping their process as natural and healthy as possible, they never use hormones or antibiotics. Changin’ Ways pigs are fed with a combination of spent grain from Waterline Brewing and unusable produce and scraps from a local grocery store.
Borkowski bases his farming philosophies on Joel Salatin, who operates Polyface Farms in Virginia and has written books like “Folks, This Ain’t Normal,” “You Can Farm” and “Salad Bar Beef.” “His big thing is enrich the soil, enrich the land, enrich the livestock, and bring a symbiotic relationship to everything it is you have going on with your farm,” Borkowski tells, “like monocropping or what we’re doing with the [mobile] chickens.”
Borkowski’s “egg mobile” sat several yards away from the pigs on an open-field plot. It’s where they started plowing the land for crops. We walked across the layers of wet and clay-like muds. He lowered the portable pen’s net fence for me to walk over, and about 160 fowl slowly set in and surrounded us. Their collective broody growl was almost deafening—even unnerving.
“These birds, last week, were over here,” he points off to the right side of field. “Then we moved them where we are here, and we’ll put them over there next.” He pointed ahead of us.
The fowl simply do what chickens do: scratch and peck for bugs. Borkowski leaves them to their work for about week or more, so their manure helps fertilize the soil. Once they’re ready to be moved again, Borkowski and company will till the soil and plant produce.
“Are those the ‘attack geese’?” I pointed to the meandering duo circling the perimeter, reminded of the warning sign posted on the front gate.
Borkowski laughs. “Believe it or not . . . they will actually keep the aerial predators at bay,” he explains.
There are typically two things to worry about with chickens: ground predators (possums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes) and aerial predators (hawks and such). Borkowski’s chickens have triple protection (outer property fence, mobile netting and closed trailer at night) from the ground threats. That’s where the geese come in.
“If something comes down here, [the geese] just wah-wah-wah-wah,” Borkowski mimics.
Borkowski wanted a variety of chicken breeds for different colors of eggs to offer small teaching lessons at farmers’ markets. Ameraucanas produce green eggs, while Andalusians’ are white, and his red cornish crosses have brown. “Some stories you hear from people who think all organic eggs are brown,” he says. “So it’s part of the whole education process.”
He sells eggs alongside a spread of his pork cuts and sausages at Port City Farmers Market each Tuesday evening at Waterline (4 p.m. – 9 p.m.), and he’ll join Poplar Grove’s Farmers Market this year on Wednesdays from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. His goal is to soon start pastor-raising chickens for meat, then hire employees to help keep up with growth—as other farmers markets, such as Surf City and Carolina Beach, have begun knocking at his door.
“Once I get someone else out here, there will be more flexibility and time to expand a bit more in the markets and reach out to greater distances,” he tells. “Also, Dean [Neff] at PinPoint is impressed with the pork. I will start doing some initial deliveries . . . I will not be his only pork provider but hope to have enough pigs in the future that I can supply most, if not all, of his future pork needs.”
Borkowski envisions a lot for Changin’ Ways’ three-to-five-year plan, including a small-scale sustainable farm that has both meat and vegetable products.
“I don’t want to totally divest from what’s going on here,” he clarifies. “[But] I’ve actually be I’ve got my eye on a property in Hampstead with an empty vacant lot for a small storefront.”
Changin’ Ways Farm is located at 7356 East Hwy 53; 703-967-6535; www.changinways.com.