The drought has made it tough to find a bright spot in agriculture this summer. But find one I did, this week as I traveled to see the beginnings of Legacy Farms and the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure Center.
Even thought the frame is up and the pit is poured for the breeding and gestation barn, Tuesday (July 31) featured the official ground breaking ceremony. It’s one thing to hear about and see the plans for what is to be a working, modern pork production unit and public education center, it’s another to see it on site with the people driving it.
In 18 short months, the Pig Adventure Center went from a nugget of an idea hatched by the Fair Oaks Farms dairy folks to a 2,400-sow unit including breeding, gestation, farrowing and a small finisher, literally with windows opening pork production up to the public. By anyone’s standards, that’s a fast track, but that pace is less surprising once you look at the players involved.
Belstra Milling will own and operate the pig production site as a commercial pork operation. Why is Belstra involved? One part is location. Belstra Milling, in DeMotte, Ind., is just down the road a piece from the Fair Oaks site.
I will venture to guess the Dutch heritage that runs through both the Belstra and Fair Oaks folks has something to do with it. I see some of the same messages and priorities echoed from my recent trip to the Netherlands.
During that trip, pork producers there told me that “You have to show consumers what and why you do things.” As Dutch producer, Gerbert Oosterlaken, said, “That’s a problem for pork—a consumer doesn’t see the producer or the process.”
Tim Belstra mirrored that sentiment, “For years, agriculture has had its head down; busy working hard to raise food. We didn’t pay attention to the public.” But increasingly there’s a need for that to change as less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is involved in agriculture and most of the other 98 percent are four or more generations removed from the farm.
Another part is due to the fact that for the past few years, Belstra has been bringing groups of consumers to a viewing area set up at its own hog facilities. That effort also included a website with video feeds to let the public watch farm activities from their homes.
Now, it’s not exactly a news flash that agriculture needs to connect more effectively with the public, but it’s the rare few who will take such a dramatic step forward to tackle the task. There’s too much at stake for pork producers to let Joe Q. Public come into their barns and track pathogens in to infect the hogs. (Not the other way around as most people believe.)