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This past week my son Brett participated in the Pork Ambassador program at Farmfest. I had the opportunity to watch most of the Ambassadors give their presentations in the MN Soybean Association tent. I was impressed by the knowledge these kids had and the ability to talk in public about the most challenging issues facing pork production today. These kids did not shy away from acknowledging that sow housing and the consumers’ disconnect with agriculture are concerns many of them have. While each Ambassador has a little different perspective based on their life experiences, they all had a good understanding of modern production and gave their opinions on what could be done to improve these challenges.

On Saturday my son Adam and I did an Oink Outing at the Hopkins Farmers market. Once again I impressed with Brad, our summer intern and Sarah, our past Ambassador and their willingness to talk to the public about modern farming. Twice now I have watched Sarah interact with someone who started out friendly but then became sarcastic about pig farming. Both times Sarah remained professional and polite and stuck to the issue. Even when these people would walk off with a rude comment, Sarah never lost her composure.

I am so impressed and proud of these young individuals. They are passionate about the pork industry and are eager to find careers and ways to stay involved. I know there are more of these types of young individuals out there and that makes me feel positive about the future of agriculture. We just need to make sure some other industry doesn’t hire them away from us.

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Those of you that have been following this blog know that we like to get our family involved in pork activities. It’s a way to both help them learn more about the industry and to give back to it. This last week was World Pork Expo and Beth and Adam, as usual spent time helping in the Hubbard Feeds booth. In the past their main goal was to find candy at the different exhibitors but now they recognize different companies and what they provide. They also found out that Mom and Dad know a lot of people.

This next week Brett will participate in the MN Agriculture Ambassador Institute. He’s participating as a member of the Pork Ambassadors. This seminar is designed to provide leadership and communication skills to kids who will be representing various aspects of production agriculture. They will also have an opportunity to see firsthand how different types of technology is used in agriculture. This will be a great opportunity for Brett to meet other kids, to learn more about agriculture and hopefully to build his confidence in speaking to others about the truths of agriculture. Since he’ll be attending the U of MN Twin Cities, I suspect he may have a few opportunities to share his farm background with others.

Adam will also participate in the Swine Industry tour later this month. This will give him an up close view of some other aspects of agriculture and since he’s thinking of a career in ag, hopefully will help him decide what he might like to do.

People talk about the future of agriculture and the need to get young people involved. Hats off to the MN Pork Board and other agriculture organizations for putting together these learning opportunities for kids interested in agriculture. Even though some of the kids may not end up with a career in ag, the things they learn will help them be good spokespeople for our industry.

 

I’ll admit this writer of the Pork Power blog has gone through a bit of writers block recently. It seems I would begin to start a subject, only to get part way through and decide it wasn’t really what I wanted to say.

Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in number of events that involve promoting pork to people who don’t typically interact with pig farmers. From the Boston Marathon in April, to Grandma’s Marathon in June, to the Oink Outing in Edina a few weeks ago, I’ve had a chance to give them a healthy, tasty sample of pork and more importantly talk to them about raising pigs.

The marathon events were just plain fun. While I enjoyed interacting with people at the Farmers Market Oink Outing in Edina, I had a number of conversations that made me realize how much people just don’t trust pig farmers anymore… and that makes me sad.

It seems there was a time when farming was a noble profession. Farmers didn’t make much money, but they were growing food for people, which was good. It also meant those people were free to get other jobs and not have to be farmers. Somewhere along the way, a few bad apples have ruined it for the rest of us and now the common thing to do is call all farmers “corporate farmers” who practice “factory farming.”  Ouch, that hurts.

I had people in Edina tell me they won’t eat meat because of the way animals were housed. When I told them about our farm and how we take care of pigs, you could see them make the mental transition to “Okay, now I trust you, but I don’t trust the other people.” So how do I explain to them that the vast majority of pig farmers in MN and the U.S. can be trusted, even if you don’t have the chance to meet with them. I want them to know that with the guidance of our veterinarians and consultants, we can make the right decisions on the welfare of our animals and we don’t need someone else making that choice for us.

I’ve never taken the trust of someone else for granted. I’ve tried to teach my kids that trust is an important part of someone’s character; it’s a measure of someone’s worth. So how do I explain to my kids that a whole new segment of society thinks we’re “worthless” and can’t be trusted to take care of the very animals that provide our livelihood.

Just as important, how do I get people to trust pig farmers again?