Philip and Dee Horst-Landis of Sweet Stem Farm
Published Feb 05
Sweet Stem Farm sits on 60 acres of some of the country’s most productive land. Their Step 2 pigs live inside open-air hoop buildings with plenty of room to run and play, and forage and nest in the straw bedding. This husband-and-wife team work tirelessly to improve the welfare of the animals they raise.
Farming has been part of our lives since childhood. I grew up in Oregon, where my grandparents had a peach orchard, goats, chickens, and bees, and Dee was born on her family’s 118-acre farm and was raised with cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens. From very early ages, we both felt it was important to be respectful of, and provide the best care for, the animals in our charge.
I started out studying engineering in college and, though some raised an eyebrow, I gave up a full scholarship to shift gears and ultimately major in agriculture with coursework in crop, soil, and animal science. I really liked studying agriculture and decided I wanted to try to make a living as a farmer.
The mutual love of animals Dee and I share has played a big part in setting our course ever since. We have a deep appreciation for all domestic animals, believing they deserve an extraordinary degree of attention and care, including those who are raised for food. Our heightened sensitivity to animal suffering fuels our profound commitment to provide our animals with lives that allows each species to express the behaviors that are central to their natures.
Seeing the animals content and well-cared for is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work. It’s pretty wonderful to watch the pigs sprint back and forth and roll around while barking when we roll out new straw bedding. Sometimes, they will carry around a mouthful of straw as if to say, “Check this out! By the way, it’s mine, mine, mine, mine!”
The lambs are just as heartening to watch, especially when they perform their “popcorn charge” after their mothers have moved to fresh grass. At that moment, the lambs are “unsupervised” by their moms, and they often form a large gang, charging around together, and occasionally leaping up—like popcorn popping—above the rest of the group as they frolic. Once they are out of breath and hungry, they gradually move into the fresh grass and find their way back to their moms. The cattle, too, bring smiles to our faces as they raise their tails and kick up their hooves when they’re out on pasture.
Every day of the year has its list of chores, and each season in Pennsylvania has its own challenges. We work anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a day, depending on what needs to be done. Aside from caring for the animals, the crops, and the land, there’s always something else that needs to be done, whether it’s repairing a tractor, a barn door, or a section of fence.
There’s no getting around the fact that a working farm needs a lot of maintenance, but it’s all worth it. In the end, it comes down to a reverence for life and working as hard as we can to provide the animals with the lives they deserve.