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Meet The Farmer Who Has Been Serving Vegas Buffet Leftovers To His Pigs For 50 Years

babe-pig-in-the-buffet.jpg
That'll do, pig. (Photo by Matt Johnson via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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Las Vegas is the land of excess in every way, and that's especially true of the city's world-famous buffets. They generate about a pound of leftovers per person per day—and one farmer has made a livelihood turning those scraps into fuel for his pigs.

Bob Combs, 74, says he came up with the idea not long after his father purchased a pig farm in 1963. The pigs at RC Farms needed food—the Mojave isn't exactly an agricultural hotspot—and Combs noticed the buffets had too much of it. His first clients were Golden Nugget, Fremont Hotel, El Cortez, Jerry's Nugget and the mess hall at Nellis Air Force Base. Today some hotels will even pay him to take the scraps away—it's actually cheaper than the other alternatives. Combs recently spoke with Modern Farmer about the scrap-to-slop process here:


When we get it from the hotels we do a final sorting, so to speak, where the food scraps — and that’s what we refer to it as, food scraps. We used to call it food waste but then a very expensive PR person told us to get rid of the word waste, so we use ‘food scraps’ — so we bring in the food scraps in the truck and dump them in a hopper. Then we do a final sorting because when you have a container sitting around people will throw stuff in there. [cut]

Next it goes up a high-rise conveyor belt and it’s dropped into a very big cooking pot. It puts out about 10 tons from one cooking, our pot holds that much. The pot has a certain amount of agitation in the injection of the steam, so we’ve got plenty of agitation of the feed, with the steam and the heat, and then we stir it and pour it into our delivery truck. It pours out of the chute into the trough where the pigs eat out of it.


Sound appetizing? Combs says his pigs prefer the stew of leftovers that his farm whips up, "Once you teach ’em to eat food scraps, they’ll turn their nose up to soybean and corn, they’ll turn their nose up to that. They go for the buffets."Combs came up with what we would call a green, sustainable solution years before those were buzzwords. The irony is that neighbors today aren't so happy with his 160-acre operation in the now-booming suburb of North Las Vegas, and he's constantly getting hit with odor complaints and facing off with local county and environmental officials, according to the Los Angeles Times. But he has his defenders: Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins told the Times, "You've got a bunch of city slickers who think milk comes from a carton and hamburgers from McDonald's. They don't understand the good he's doing out there. That farm was green long before the nation was green."
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And Combs plans to keep his farm going as long as he can. He once turned down a $70 million offer for his farm, and explained to the Times, "There's a hungry world out there and I'm gonna feed it. I'm gonna go down with this ship."

Here is Combs giving a tour of his farm in a (blurry) video from 2009: