Birth to the Kill Floor: 12 dynamic bloggers experience 100% through the #farmtopork Blogger Tour in NC.
*I was a sponsored guest of Animal Ag Alliance on the #farmtopork US Blogger Tour. All opinions of this post are my own. This was not a paid post, rather my choice to write about the experience. Read on. *Pictures at end of post.
Last week I was able to attend a conference in North Carolina with a group of dynamic bloggers. All were women and they blog about food, crafting, politics, parenting and more. They are some of the most influential people I’ve ever met. I got to accompany them as they got an in depth look at the process of MFM (my favorite meat): PORK.
(*Heads up, if you choose to read on, you’ll see some graphic photos of pig carcasses. And if you choose not to eat meat, that is your choice and I will respect that fully. Please respect my family, personal choice and livelihood where we raise livestock for meat purposes, teach our children proper stockmanship and how to be good caretakers of the land that has been in our family, some for over 145 years. I am and always will be thankful to the pigs we raise and the sacrifice they make for us to nourish our families and others. We give them the best life we can so we can put affordable, nutritious, quality pork on the table for many.)
From gestation of sows to birth, nursery, finisher, slaughter and packaging bacon at the Smithfield plant in Clinton, NC, they saw everything. These ladies did it all, willingly and were so insightful and intuitive. I was mostly along for the ride because I raise pigs with my husband and our family in Iowa. I also blog about food (as you probably know) so I had a few things in common with most of the bloggers in that regard. I was on hand to answer questions of the bloggers about pig farming. I had many great conversations and it furthered my thankfulness of living where I do and getting to raise hogs and farm with my family in the Midwest. I was prepared to help these ladies understand modern pig farming and would be there to help answer questions if they were to arise when we were at dinner, on the bus, in the hotel lobby, etc. I was there to teach… I thought.
The #1 best part of the trip I won’t forget: I’ll never get over how much I learned from them.
Things I learned from my new #farmtopork friends:
How much they really respect the caretakers of the land and the livestock. This was unanimous. It showed when they came out of the farrowing barn and then again when they were so attentive during the environmental portion of the tour (where we talked about using the manure as fertilizer and more.) When the world is full of food-bullies and activists, one could find it alarming to see honest, genuine farm families so concerned with the well-being of their animals. This is something you’ll see everywhere. People care about their stock because very well-cared for and well-managed stock become productive and profitable stock, which in turn keeps the farm in the family and bread on the table in their homes.
How hard they thought the job of doing the aforementioned was. These women suited up in their coveralls with the best of them and had the tour of a lifetime. Few people will ever do what they did in the short amount of time that we did it in. Total immersion from Farm to Fork, rather #farmtopork, with radical transparency from Prestage Farms, Smithfield Foods and everyone involved. There wasn’t a question unanswered and a request unmet. (Unless it was for a functioning hairdryer in the hotel, which was unachievable, as they all kept shorting out!)
How rewarding the job of raising animals and crops would be and how much that it seemed they were humbled by that. Seeing the families that raise hogs for Prestage Farms really helped everyone make the connection of the ‘family farm’ and how it co-exists among the larger companies. The ‘contract grower’ model really appealed to many of the bloggers I visited with. Families had talked about their contract growing situation and how it will help them keep the farm in the family, by providing a steady pay check. They made me realize how lucky we are to be able to do what we do on a daily basis and provide an income for our family along with life experiences for our children. I’ve always known to be thankful for our lifestyle but this experience reminded me of that.
How they wished they could give their children more experiences ‘on the farm’. I swear I opened my doors to these women and I’d have all of them in my home in the blink of an eye. I want to give their kids the full farm experience. After how the lead me to appreciate the lifestyle we live here in the Midwest even more than I already do? Of course they need to come here to Iowa and get the full farm tour (meaning: tractors, cattle, horses, corn soybeans etc.).
How interested they were in my lifestyle. Which was totally flattering, but I was equally interested in theirs, too. So often (when you have livestock you don’t leave home) we get settled in our small lives at home. We forget there are people who are generations off the farm (meaning they, nor their parents or even grandparents farmed). I truly believe that more of these folks than we know, have great desires to be back on the farm or at least closer to it, in any capacity. I never think of it this way, maybe because I’m born and raised, and never left. But their genuine curiosity sincerely makes me even happier and more thankful to be here. I loved hearing of their lives and what they do for fun, with their children and with their families. It was so intriguing.
They all showed me how to be graceful even in an uncomfortable situation. I’ll admit: the kill floor isn’t a fun place to be, (for me). When you raise livestock for a living, you do anything you can to keep your animals alive. When one isn’t around the final stage (kill/packaging) on a regular basis it can make for different feelings. I still cry when we sell anything, ie: a load of fat hogs out of the finisher barns or our show pigs. I’m not ashamed of this and motherhood has taken a toll on my toughness and ‘edge’! Here’s the thing: I worried about the kill floor, seeing slaughter (which was calm and expertly done, using CO2 to fully anesthetize the animal and then killing after). When our group was on the kill floor, it was serene and quiet. Pigs were moving through the alleys and things were QUIET. It was wonderful and nothing like any of the bloggers thought it would be. The skills required of the workers doing their various jobs were executed flawlessly and all of the workers were kind and friendly. I was so impressed. Still, the grace and curiosity of the bloggers to know every part of the process, even if they weren’t completely comfortable, was refreshing and something I’ll never forget.
It is all about the little things. From now on I’ll relish a little more in the minutia of raising pigs. Pulling a soft warm piglet to your chest, scratching a sow’s back, scooping the show pig pens (cathartic release?), the trip to and from the barn and seeing my children grow up to be great stockmen like their folks and grandparents and working hard and getting dirty together as a family. The simple things were what intrigued these bloggers most, and I should thank them for reminding me that it is the little things the bring the most joy.
Things I talked about with some of the bloggers.
We discussed the topic of gestation stalls and farrowing stalls and why they are in practice. I plan to write an entire post on this in the near future and can elaborate for you all, too. We raise hogs indoors and outdoors on our farms so I can certainly speak to the benefits and risks of the different ways of raising pigs through pregnancy and birth, but I will tell you that I’m in support of the use of gestation stalls and farrowing stalls and there are a number of reasons I will outline in a future post.
We talked a lot about breeding, the anatomy of pigs, fertility and the birth process.
We talked about different breeds of pigs and I even had a ‘boar catalog’ on me from a show pig boar stud (place that houses boars, collects their semen and sells it). We looked at the different breeds of pigs and talked about color traits, temperament, maternal qualities vs. terminal qualities and more. (When I say ‘we’, these conversations sometimes only happened with 1-3 people, sometimes more).
We talked about pork. Sausage, bacon, cooking temperatures, grilling, smoking, curing etc. These women know their food and I’m constantly perusing their blogs for some inspiration!
We talked about our children and families. A lot. We talked about the food that we prepare for them, which was a binding factor for all of us. I can tell you that these women had all of the information presented to them to be reassured that there is a safe, quality product at the grocery stores. This is because of the hard work that is being done by farmers (like my family) to get it there. They know this because they saw every step in the life of the pig and the journey of #farmtopork.
Here are some photos from the trip!
We toured Prestage Farms breeding, farrowing, nursery and finisher barns. We had meals with their employees and the families that raise pigs on their own farms for Prestage. I’ll never forget the North Carolina hospitality.
We got to tour the Smithfield Foods plant in Clinton, NC. Not one blogger batted an eye when they asked if anyone did not want to go on the kill floor. Not one. Everyone went and experienced the full tour of the facility.
And of course we got treated to some delicious foods (lots of foodies on this blogger tour) at local restaurants PLUS fine eats by Top Chef contestant Keith Rhodes. OMG Chef, the pork loin… to die!
Also… 18 Seaboard in Raleigh, Chef Jason Smith knocked it out of the park too. The lemon crème brulee is still on my mind, morning noon and night!