Paul Willis

Farmer & Founder
Niman Ranch Pork Company

Paul Willis is a 5th generation family farmer and founder of the Niman Ranch Pork Company. He has owned and operated the Willis Free Range Pig Farm in Iowa since 1975, but today he works hard to increase opportunities for traditional, sustainable and humane family farmers while representing the Niman Ranch brand.

“I’ve been raising pigs for 46 years, and still do today. Over that time, I’ve seen a shift in farming: animals in agriculture have been reduced to ‘protein production units’ and have lost the respect and dignity of being living individuals in our care. As a farmer, a consumer, and a steward, I think it’s important to reverse that trend. Moving the market to incentivize raising animals with higher welfare creates opportunities for healthier food systems and more diversity in farming and ranching.”

Paul’s involvement in sustainable agriculture began after he graduated from the University of Iowa and joined the Peace Corps. After returning to the states to start his own farm, Paul initially sold his hogs in the conventional market. When he met Bill Niman in 1995, the two discovered a shared dedication to sustainable farming, strict animal husbandry standards and raising the highest quality product possible. Their partnership led to the establishment of the Niman Ranch Pork Company in 1998, which has since grown into a network of over 500 independent family farmers.

Paul sits on the board for the Global Animal Partnership and has been the subject of numerous feature–length articles in such publications as the New York Times, Boston Globe, Successful Farming, Vogue, Country Living, Bon Appetit and Food & Wine.  He co-founded Food Democracy Now and has been involved with the Global Animal Partnership and National Academy of Sciences.  Paul participated in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Expert Meeting on Capacity Building to Implement Good Animal Welfare Practices in Rome, October 2008, to review the current knowledge on animal welfare standards, practices and policies.  

Other awards and accolades: The 2003 Good Neighbor Harvest Award from the Glynwood Center; 2012 Pathfinder Sustainability Award from Chefs Collaborative; 2013 Founders Award from Edible Communities; 2015 Stewards of Iowa’s Land recognition from Drake University’s Agricultural Law Center.

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  • Change Food Eats – Paul Willis

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    Paul Willis is a 5th generation family farmer and founder of the Niman Ranch Pork Company. He has owned and operated the Willis Free Range Pig Farm in Iowa since 1975, but today he works hard to increase opportunities for traditional, sustainable and humane family farmers while representing the Niman Ranch brand. On this episode […]

  • Change Food By Not Changing Food | Paul Willis | Change Food Fest

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    Paul Willis, farmer and founder of Niman Ranch Pork Co., talks about changing food by not changing. Going against large factory farms and sticking with what he knew – high animal welfare, certification, animals raised without antibiotics, by family farmers – Paul created a space for changing food by not changing what he was doing.

  • How can consumers change the Food System? – Paul Willis

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    This has been happening for some time, but just asking, being curious about their food, wanting to know where it comes from; whether it’s a radish or it’s a pig or a chicken or a carrot or an apple. It’s also important to have contact with a farmer himself, to know the farmer, to understand […]

  • Who in the Food Movement inspires you? – George Faison

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    I’m inspired by people like Paul Willis who are on a grassroots level, coordinating local farmers to work together to create and perhaps even rejuvenate and revitalize a way of farming that was actually the norm about 40, 50 years ago. So a man like that who’s willing to get his fingers dirty, his hands […]

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    I’m inspired by this whole network of people who are really paying attention to this. And you find that there are many branches to this particular issue – it’s the chefs, asking those questions, looking for good products; there are the consumers themselves, there are people that are interested in the environment, the diversity, the […]

  • What is your vision for the Food System? – Paul Willis

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    Well my vision since I’m involved with Niman Ranch is to see the double and triple in the number of farmers and the amount of livestock that we can provide with high animal welfare levels, with clean raised; instead of having a small part of our food system being clean it would eventually become the […]

  • What is the biggest problem with the Food System? – Paul Willis

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    The biggest food problem that we have today is supply for good quality, clean raised food. Particularly in the United States, we’ve lost our population base that are farmers; industrial farming getting bigger continuously over the last few years. So probably the biggest problem is stopping that and reversing that if we’re talking about having […]

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