I was recently invited to be a sponsored guest of the Animal Agriculture Alliance for a Farm to Pork Tour in rural North Carolina. I was not compensated or asked to write a post, however I choose to do so because it was so incredibly fascinating. All opinions are my own and based on my experience.
What’s a BLT without the Bacon?
Before I even begin this post, I would like to note that I eat meat. Yes, poultry, pork, beef, and fish; it is all fair game. My family is the same with the exception of one- my daughter is a vegetarian – who sometimes eats shrimp. Do we frown upon her desire to eat this way? Absolutely not. Is she bothered we are omnivores? Nope. See, our dietary choices are just that- choices. There is no right or wrong. If you choose to not eat meat, that is totally fine by me, but please, do not harass me because I do. Now that we have that squared away, I want to tell you about the amazing trip I just experienced with Farm to Pork and everything in between.
Farm to Fork Turns Farm to Pork
I was invited along with 11 other fabulous women bloggers from all over the US to experience a true “Farm to Fork” tour with the pork industry giant Smithfield Inc., and the farmers from Prestage Farms. These amazing women each had unique backgrounds- some (like me) are food bloggers, some craft & app designers, others journalists and social good advocates; we even had a pig farmer from the Midwest! We all had different backgrounds, yet we all had one thing in common; our love of food and the willingness to have an open mind to learn all we could about the process of pork from beginning to end. When I say from beginning to end, I mean that in the complete literal sense. We inseminated sows, followed the stages of weaning and finishing and ended on the “Kill Floor.” It was something I will never forget.
So how can I possibly express all that happened in 72 hours? I don’t believe I can in one single post. So, I’ve decided to do a few more posts that will run every now and then on Fridays as part of my “Food for Thought.” So, for today, I would like to start with the farmers.
Your Barn Door is Open…
It took two years for the Animal Ag Alliance to help ease concerns to have the barn doors open in order to start the conversation to social influencers about farming pigs. They knew nothing about us and were a bit apprehensive to have a visit. Not for wanting to hide anything, but for not knowing what to expect. Would we come to their home with preconceived opinions and ridicule operations? We were in the same boat- we didn’t really know what to expect either- It’s not every day you get asked to tour a pig farm. As a collective, I think we were all holding our breath as the unknown can be a bit intimidating. Once we were “showered-in” (oh, yeah- I'll talk more about that soon!) and were ready for our briefing before heading into the first barn, the nervousness began to dissipate as direct and intelligent questions began to filter into the group. Once it was clear that we were willing to ask questions, listen and learn all we could, they were committed to welcome each and every question with full transparency, to explain everything and anything and share their passion for raising healthy pigs. Contrary to what has been reported in the past, each and every farmer, veterinarian, nutritionist, line worker & packager we met on this entire tour loves their pigs and their jobs. Most of these folks have been doing this for 18, 20, heck some for 30 years, which is a rarity in this day and age.
When you think of a pig, what comes to mind? The cute Wilbur from the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web? Maybe you envision Babe the pig from the movie ‘Babe’ -all small and cute and pink. Well, let me tell you something about hogs. They are HUGE. Much bigger than I would ever expect; and they are LOUD! They are so loud we had to use earplugs when visiting the barn housing sows, especially when the boar was in the house. The ladies went wild and so did the decibel count it was like Elvis was IN THE BUILDING. It is here where some of us had the opportunity to inseminate a sow and view an ultrasound on a pregnant sow. Few people can say they have done that in their lifetime! When moving on to the farrow (birthing) barn, it was calm and quiet. This is where we found the little guys either nursing or sleeping on heated pads. We were asked if we wanted to hold the small pigs and of course we all said yes! I was very excited to hold a piglet and one thing that stuck with me is how incredibly warm they are.
When in North Carolina, Eat like You’re in North Carolina
We finished the first farm visit with lunch provided by Southern Smoke BBQ NC and their rocking pulled pork sandwich complete with slaw on top. After one bite, this northern girl became a believer of the southern BBQ sandwich! I really have no words for how incredible this was, so I’ll let the picture do the talking for me.
The Next “Food For Thought” post will be highlighting the nursery and finishing farm and dinner by Bravo ‘Top Chef’ Contestant & James Beard nominee Keith Rhodes.