Brenneman: Transforming from city girl to pork producer

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Erin BrennemanErin Brenneman I was a city girl.

That’s right, I was born and raised in LaGrange, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.  My graduating class, pictured to the right, was just short of 800 people, (that’s me on top of my fingernail).

I always needed to factor traffic into my driving times, and I judged distance by the time it took to get there instead of miles. My husband once described it as “always being in town no matter how far you went.”

It seemed like a silly statement to me then, but I get it now. I love my city background and wouldn’t trade it for the world but I feel so blessed to be a converted farm girl now. 

Erin BrennemanErin Brenneman Growing up in the city and moving into the country gives me a great perspective on things that I do everyday now. I have realized how very little people know about the agricultural community.

Most people now no longer even have a grandma or grandpa that lives on the farm.

My own family members were curious about what was growing in those fields that they drive past when going down I-80, saying, “That doesn’t look like corn.”

It turns out that they were simply looking at soybeans!

It seems silly to those of us who live and breathe country life, of course, but people honestly don’t know. You would be amazed at the number of people who think those vast fields of field corn are actually sweet corn. It is a question I have been asked more than once. 

I remember when I first started coming around my husband’s family pork farm before we got married. He would travel to and from Ames every single weekend to go work and I never understood why.

It most definitely sparked my curiosity.

What could be so attracting to a college student to want to skip the WEEKEND to go home and work? So of course we started seeing more of each other and I eventually began to tag along with him.

Erin BrennemanErin Brenneman I was blown away. I remember one morning weaning pigs into the nursery with Tim and his uncle. We were climbing into the pens with hundreds of plump little weaned pigs and sorting them down by size in a 100-degree room, all while his uncle sang some goofy song at the top of his lungs.

I thought to myself, “This is what you DO for a living? This is your job?”

That’s when it dawned on me, how little my generation and the people I grew up with know about our food and where it comes from. I had never really thought about it until I was here and experienced it firsthand.

There are so many people who go to the farm and pour their soul into raising these animals day-in and day-out for a living so that I can eat affordable and safe food. 

From there on out I was on a mission: I was going to spread our story as farmers to everyone I had the chance to.

I thought it was so cool that people found my daily tasks so incredibly interesting. When I go home for holidays or weddings, everybody wants to talk to ‘the girl who left the city to become a pig farmer.’

Erin BrennemanErin Brenneman They are hungry for someone to give them an insight into this now alien world of agriculture. I contacted my sister, who still lives in Aurora, Ill., and asked if I could visit my nephew’s classes at school to teach the little ones about farming. We have had multiple groups come to our farm, from local schools and restaurant staff members, to Florida FFA State Officers.

We have hosted groups from different countries, including China, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. All of them are interested in and amazed at the amount of time, care, and passion we have for what we do and the style in which we choose to do it. 

We, as an industry, need to step up and speak out. We need to find ways to reach out and (I know it sounds like a broken record by now but tell our story.

The truth of the matter is that if we who live it everyday don’t get out there and open our doors to educating people about what we do, somebody else is going to try and tell our story. And most likely, just like any story in the retelling, there will be things that you don’t like and are not quite right about what was said.

Who better to teach others about farming than the farmer himself?

I have told my story and been in countless conversations with people who are completely naive to farming, and then when I see them again they tell me, “Every time I go to the store and buy a pork chop, I think of you.”

That is it, right there. That is the point.

They know me and they know that I care – and my family cares – about what we do. We bring our kids along with us because they love it and they are learning to care as much as we do.

These people are brought comfort by the fact that my life is an open book and I will share everything I can with them. I want everyone to see the passion I have for these pigs and this farm.

Over the last 10 years, I haven’t met any farmer who didn’t share the same work ethic and philosophy. The problem is getting the message out there. More and more ag people are beginning to open up and share.

Remember, it doesn’t involve multiple long, wordy posts on Facebook or a blog, it can be as simple as engaging in a conversation with somebody next to you on a plane or the lady who is cutting your hair.  People want to know.

I challenge you to do something to share your story this week. Post a picture, or engage in a conversation with someone not familiar with agriculture. My guess is that you will be pleasantly surprised, and if you are anything like me, you will be hungry to do it more. It is a satisfying experience to know that people appreciate your hard work and time.

Here is a video, also seen to the right, that was made about our family farm with my father-in-law, Rob Brenneman, talking about why we do what we do every day.

It is a great way for us to tell our story and help people visualize what a day might look like on the farm. We hope you enjoy the video and find unique ways to share what you do!


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Florian Possberg    
Saskatchewan, Canada  |  February, 26, 2014 at 08:30 AM

Great story Erin. Thanks for promoting agriculture to city and country folks alike. As born farmer and hog producer, your video explains a lot about what it is we do and why. You are telling our story...thanks!

Mark    
IL  |  February, 28, 2014 at 09:07 AM

Born & raised as a country boy, Just never knew what attracted someone to asphalt & concrete when nature has more to offer. I too know of a person born & raised in the city. They act like they are getting a second chance at life. Even thought she is a vegans & Would like to grow produce. She understands the value of meat in human health. She admits problem in her diet and says she attracted to her husbands meat eating habits. At a time she blames farmers for her health problems, But all that has changed after living on a farm for 9 months. I wish them the best. By the way they both were born in the city, Trying their hand at farming.


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