7 Things I Learned at the Pork Checkoff’s Swine University by Pat Bane, 2018 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year

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Courtesy of National Pork Board. Des Moines, IA USA

I recently returned from a weekend in Miami. I know, cry me a river. It was sub-zero in my home state of Illinois while Miami’s Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival was experiencing record-breaking heat. I was there representing America’s pig farmers and sharing the story of sustainable pig production with consumers, media, chefs and influencers. The Pork Checkoff supports this annual South Beach festival because pork is the protein of choice at the event.

SOBEWFF, as they call it, is truly amazing. Never have I seen so many people in love with our product. The Latino influence in Miami is everywhere, and this plays to pork’s popularity. I also learned a few things while attending the event, which draws nearly 70,000 consumers.

  1. People love pork, but they just do not understand how healthy it is. The Pork Checkoff educated attendees on that fact through an exhibit with the theme of Welcome to Swine University. The “university” had three schools, the first of which was the School of Health. Discussions about pork’s high quality and lean nutritional profile were front and center.
  2. Beyond pork meals enjoyed at multiple events, attendees were also hungry for information. That is where the School of Sustainability did its work. In Miami, sustainability is not just a buzzword; on-farm practices are important to both consumers and influencers. Attendees stood in line to learn more about farming. They could take a seat in the popular multimedia “pig head” to watch a video and meet one of America’s littlest pig farmers, Barrett Clark. People also could visit a North Carolina pig farm via virtual reality goggles.
    Swine University attendees could take a seat in the multimedia pig head for an introduction to one of America’s youngest – and cutest – pig farmers, Barrett Clark, for lessons in pig farming.
  3. Foodies abound at South Beach, but so do people who love to eat and some have no idea how to cook or where to start. The pervasive catchphrase was Eat. Drink. Educate. This could not have been a truer set of priorities. We are all guilty of at times taking food and drink for granted. Education is the third leg of the stool that makes people think about what they put in their bodies and where it came from. The School of Flavor helped consumers learn how to cook with pork through recipes and by adhering to the ideal 145-degree end-point cooking temperature.
  4. South Beach provides a unique opportunity to connect one-on-one with consumers. Many were multicultural, including Latino consumers who love and buy our product. In fact, these consumers over-index in purchasing pork. Sharing our recent research on multicultural pork buying habits resonated with many consumers that I had the opportunity to speak to in Miami.
  5. Understanding pork’s role in the marketplace begins with education. At a special pre-event session on the Florida International University campus, about two dozen chefs and foodie influencers learned the story of today’s pig farming from Pork Checkoff presenters José de Jesus and Brett Kaysen. They shared the Pork Checkoff’s new consumer research and pig farmers’ sustainability practices. The chefs and influencers also observed a carcass fabrication by the Pork Checkoff’s Clay Eastwood. This event defined why pork is the world’s most popular protein.
    Clay Eastwood, manager of International Marketing, fabricates a pig carcass for a class of chefs and food influencers.
  6. Consumers care, and often ask, about how we raise pigs. Taking care of my animals and ensuring their well-being is critical. This is also true for consumers who have questions about pig farming. At home, I routinely bring people to my farm and share my personal story. The South Beach Food Festival gave me a unique opportunity to do just that. It is important to let the public know how we raise pigs and that we do what is right every day to keep them healthy and ensure a safe food supply.
  7. The Pork Checkoff represents our industry well through connections with high-profile Latin chefs and influencers. I personally judged the entries in two outstanding food events – the Coca-Cola Beachside BBQ Bash presented by the National Pork Board and Swine & Wine, the event’s closing reception where pork is the only protein served. I shared my duties with Miami chef Jose Mendin, a five-time James Beard nominee and the driving force behind Pubbelly restaurants. To say I learned a few things from him about presentation, flavor and texture is an understatement.
    Pat Bane and Chef Jose Mendin judged entries in two food events at SOBE.

Swine University gave me an opportunity to share with influencers and consumers what all pig farmers do every day to produce delicious, healthy and sustainably raised pork. With many of today’s consumers two to three generations removed from farming, it is important to offer an opportunity to go inside a pig barn through the power of technology and just to be present to answer questions.

The Pork Board’s Swine University gets an “A” from me. I enjoyed conversations with the children who came to assemble a jigsaw pig puzzle to “graduate” and don a pig ears cap and gown for a photo opportunity. But the real connection came in talking with their parents who enjoyed learning more about pig farming and where their food comes from. We need to share how we raise pigs and grain with this next generation, many of whom have never set foot on a family farm.

Pat Bane is America’s Pig Farmer of the Year and represents the pork production industry at regional and national events that highlight pork. Nominate a pig farmer or yourself for the 2019 award today.

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