Connecting people to where their food comes from has become a more difficult task as many consumers are several generations removed from agriculture. Social media and the Internet have helped minimize that disconnect, but it still is not the same as seeing production agriculture first-hand.
Showing off current farming practices has been the bread and butter for business at Fair Oaks Farms, a major agri-tourism draw for visitors who are not familiar with agriculture. Since 2004, the Fair Oaks, Indiana farm has held tours at one of its 11 dairies and helped educate over 400,000 guests per year at The Dairy Adventure.
Just this past year the farm stepped into the pork world with the addition of The Pig Adventure, and so far it has been a huge success.
The Pig Adventure opened this past summer and for the month of July, Fair Oaks Farms saw 18,475 visitors to the agri-tourism portion, with many of those guests coming specifically to see The Pig Adventure.
Leah Lentini, assistant manager of The Pig Adventure, shares that people who visit the facility will see three different barns. These barns include the farrowing barn, the breeding/gestation barn and the gilt developer unit.
While there, guests see the process of raising pigs including day-to-day farm activities like farrowing, artificial insemination, teeth clipping, tattooing and vaccinating.
The facility houses 2,700 sows that can be viewed from the second floor via many different glass viewing areas. In all, the farm is expected to produce 80- 90,000 piglets per year.
Fun and Learning
Besides seeing live animals, visitors can also learn about the pork industry through a series of videos and interactive activities throughout The Pig Adventure. For instance, upon entering the facility, guests are greeted by a tour guide who is actually on a video monitor and walks them through the process of raising pigs.
Once on the live tour, guests can see workers at the farm ultrasounding sows for pregnancy and then they can try their hand at it on a plastic pig.
“I had one girl find 26 piglets and there are only 27 switches,” says Lentini.
After doing the ultrasound, a printout can be made for visitors to show off their newfound skill to friends and family.
Other activities include scrubbing up and disinfecting in a digital shower, comparing a visitor’s size with a projected pig and learning myth-busting facts from the Talking Hogwash video series.
Lentini says everyone she has spoken with after a tour is amazed at what they learned at The Pig Adventure, and they come away excited to bring someone back with them in the future.
“Everyone that I’ve talked to at the exiting door has said this is way more than they expected,” Lentini relates. “It’s all been very positive, which is awesome.”
The addition of The Pig Adventure came about through a partnership with Belstra Milling Co. in nearby De Motte, Ind.
“About two and a half years ago, the owners of the farm got with the president of Belstra and said, ‘Hey, what would you guys think about doing a pig farm here?’” says Jed Stockton, communications director at Fair Oaks Farms.
That early discussion led to Belstra Milling building its eighth swine operation at Fair Oaks Farms, while also opening up the doors to consumers who may have never seen a pig before.
After expanding into the pork industry, the outlook for Fair Oaks Farms looks very bright.
"Fair Oaks is branching out into different areas,” says Stockton. “This is not just going to be a dairy anymore. This is going to be a one-stop agriculture experience."
New features will include a restaurant, sporting arena and resort with a water park. More farm segments will be added, including a caged laying-hen operation and a fish farm.
"Any aspect of agriculture you could possibly think of, we’re going to have it here so you can come and see how 21st-century agriculture practices are done," Stockton explains.
One of those innovative practices is the use of digesters to create electricity for the farms via the pig and cow nutrient waste. The methane in the manure is also used to power 42 milk trucks that deliver milk as far away as Florida. This is saving the farm from using the equivalent of 2 million gallons of gasoline per year.
“We show people how to farm with less land, less water and less impact on the environment because that’s just the way things are going to have to be done with the number of people we’ll need to feed in the coming years,” adds Stockton.
Editor’s Note: This article was written by Wyatt Bechtel, former associate editor of PorkNetwork.