Representatives of several of the nation’s most respected food retailers toured the Craig and Carol Christensen hog farm near Ogden and enjoyed great food at the restaurant they own during a whirlwind visit to Iowa last month.

The public relations and communications summit, hosted June 25-26 by the National Pork Board (NPB) with support of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), engaged leaders of Sonic, Domino’s, SUPERVALU, Target and CKE Restaurants on a wide range of topics including animal care, genetic modification and environmental sustainability.

“In the food industry, we continually hear about issues related to farming practices, but we don’t always get the opportunity to hear directly from farmers themselves,” said Luke Friedrich, manager of public affairs and external communications for SUPERVALU. “Doing so gives you a better understanding of the science behind what they do, as well as the practical reasons.

“All of this adds perspective,” Friedrich said, “and that helps us better serve our customers.”

Upon arrival in Des Moines, the delegation received a short welcome and overview of modern pig farming at the NPB’s office in Clive. They traveled to Ogden and were welcomed by the Christensens to their multi-generational, farrow-to-wean enterprise.

The tour of Highway Farms provided guests the opportunity to view sows cared for in individual gestation stalls as well as open pen housing. They also participated in a walk around the farm to view the finishing and farrowing barns and feed mill.

Then it was off to the Lucky Pig Pub & Grill for dinner. The restaurant, located in downtown Ogden and purchased by the Christensens in 2011, features a pork-centered menu complimented with beef, chicken and fish entrees and a good helping of live music and other entertainment.

Beyond great food, the restaurant was the idea backdrop for Craig Christensen to talk about the pride farmers take in growing food and their communities.

“We purchased it three years ago because it was dying,” he said, motioning to fully restored dining rooms bustling with activity. “We believed the town needed a restaurant so we went to work refurbishing it without a blueprint but with the help of a lot of volunteers.

“Not to get too nostalgic, but my wife and I have a ten- and eight-year-old,” Christensen continued. “When I was a kid, we had a vibrant restaurant and grocery store and I could do anything because I knew everyone. You lose that sense of community when you lose your restaurants and grocers. I didn’t want that to happen in Ogden.”

Chris Brandon, director of external communications and events for Domino’s, said Christensen’s story resonates along with his commitment to growing safe food.

“Those of us in the food industry will never be the experts on how food is grown – that’s why time spent visiting with farmers and seeing what they do and where they live is so beneficial,” Brandon said. “Information empowers us to transition from being responsive and reactive to being proactive about how proud we are to be a partner with Iowa’s pig farmers.

“It’s also very helpful to hear from the other brands that have gathered here,” Brandon said. “It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together as we navigate the issues farmers and our customers care about.”

Following the farm tour and dinner, the group met with ISA representatives to learn more about the association, soybean production and the Iowa Food & Family Project.

For some, the visit to Iowa was their first. But it may not be their last given the important and evolving issues facing the nation’s farm and food industries.

“The more we understand and work together,” said Patrick Lenow, vice president of public relations for Sonic, “the better we are all served.”