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.