Crystal Nells has a unique bond with animals. It’s a bond that one mightn’t expect at first impression. She’s a tall woman of an urban upbringing that reflects in everything about her: her stance, carriage, sense of humor, banter, and liberal application of four-letter expletives. At C&D Family Farms, however, she was as Snow White, summoning bluebirds to her dainty fingertips with a soft soprano song….

…if Snow White were a tall woman of urban upbringing…

…and bluebirds were pigs and dogs…

…and soft soprano songs were a Chicago accent laced with four-letter expletives.

As we pulled our pouting porcine pal up toward the house to be penned away into safer confines, I noticed Crystal’s dog, Emma, snarling at one of the rescue potbellies through a length of pen.

“That dog does NOT like that pig,” I commented.

Her inner Snow White came to surface. She leaned over to salve the disgruntled soul of the peevish canine with a motherly stroke upon the dog’s back and side with reassuring words.

“That’s Emma… and she really doesn’t,” Crystal explained after calming the dog. “I’m not sure why, but Emma just seems to hate Rooster.”

“Rooster,” I puzzled aloud as my eyes drifted to and fro, seeking the offensive yard bantam in question.

“Yes, that’s Rooster,” Crystal clarified by nodding her head to the small potbellied pig that was pressing its nose to the pen in an unsuccessful attempt to befriend Emma.

Rooster was a gregariously friendly rescue-pig with an insatiable curiosity about the visitors to the farm.

I smiled.

“I suppose that I too might dislike any pig that woke me up every sunrise by crowing,” I jested.

Okay. I’ll admit it. It was a stupid joke. I know that I’m supposed to be a humorist… but they can’t all be gems. So lay off me… okay? Sheesh!

By that point, the crisp air was starting to reach through the thick, leather coat I was wearing.

As if telepathic mind-reading was another one of her seemingly supernatural qualities, Crystal looked to me and suggested, “Why don’t we go inside and warm up a bit?”

Crystal’s hospitality was swift and generous. She set a pot of coffee to brew as we continued to muse about all things topical. Upon her kitchen range was a tremendous stockpot filled with veggies and broth.

“Expecting a lot of company for dinner later tonight?” I inquired.

Brian, my good friend and travel companion, leaned down to stick his nose into the pot to investigate.

“Oh,” Crystal explained, “that’s pig soup.”

The phrase amused me, and brought an immediate smile to my face.

Pig soup.

Crystal, it seems, cooks up mass quantities of nutritious broths, stews, and soups as a treat for her porky little pals. She doesn’t just cast slop into the pens. The pigs at C&D Family farms are treated to an antibiotic-free diet of quality feed, supplemented by lovingly-made pig soup.

The understanding that the soup was for the pigs didn’t stop Brian from his examination of the pot’s contents. His apparent desire for pig soup seemed to rival his eager consumption of the pig cookies (see City Mouse in the Country, part 1). From this, I can only ascertain that Brian has an untamable hunger for pig food, perhaps as a vestigial legacy cast upon his line from centuries past by a porcine demiurge or tribal boar-god. I’m fairly certain that if I were to launch a line of microwave dinners for pigs, Brian would be the foundational cornerstone of my incipient affluence.

The coffee brewed, Crystal filled my mug with the welcome black nectar before we adjourned to her study.

The walls of her study were lined with thematic novelties that celebrated the life and interests of a swineherd. Tiny, painted porcelain pigs deemed to dance and pose along the shelves. Photos lined the office-scape to tell a tale of the many unusual, four-legged, friends that Crystal and Dan have made throughout their career. One such beast stood out amongst the photos; a mammoth black boar mottled by white spots. This tremendous predatory omnivore was as prevalent in the photos as any other family’s lap dog might be. This was no rescue potbelly. This was a large herd animal that became a beloved family pet.

coffee and cigarettes photo

Photo by VV Nincic

Crystal lit a cigarette and gazed through the window of time to her late friend.

“Domino,” she said, introducing me to the boar through the photo, “I sure miss him.”

It was apparent that Domino was as much a member of her family as her own husband was.

My eyes drank up the farm’s history throughout these captured moments and knickknacks.

Our conversation, though meant to be an interview, transformed into a friendly rapport over coffee and cigarettes. She had welcomed me into her home as a member of the C&D Family. It was perfectly delightful.

“I do hope you boys will be back here for Customer Appreciation Day on May fifth. We’ll be having a barbecue and a petting zoo. Tell me you’ll be there.”

“I will,” I assured her.

The conversation was abruptly interrupted by the sound of a large truck pulling into the farm.

“That must be the truck returning from deliveries,” she explained.

It seems that I would soon get to meet the rest of the charming cast of characters that comprised the C&D family stage.

I turned my head to look out the window. The driver of the truck stepped down from its cab. She was a picture of midwestern America’s values: a sturdy-looking woman who was very apparently familiar with the ethics of hard work. The driver wore a confident stride, a Carhartt jacket, and the kind of practical haircut that heralded the presence of a hard-working American. The driver approached the farmhouse to enter.

As the sound of the door closed behind her, Crystal called out from the study, “We’re in here, mom!”

Mom? I did NOT see that coming!

Crystal and I left the study to return to gather with the others in the more spacious environment of the kitchen. I barely had a moment to meet Crystal’s mother before the door would open again.

Dan entered the room.

“Boy oh boy! I could hear Austin complaining all the way up the driveway!” he exclaimed.

This was my first face-to-face meeting with Dan. He was somehow shorter than I had anticipated, but his confident presence was a giant of a man.

I felt the compulsion to smile once again at the motley band. It was clear to me that one word in the company’s name stands out above all others… family.

Crystal and Dan have reduced their influence upon the brand to just initials. The word “farm” only tells you what type of company they are… but FAMILY is what makes C&D family farms so special.