This little piggy went to town, this little piggy went to market, this little piggy…
This nursery rhyme is likely where our common experience with pigs stop. Some may think of bacon when they see pigs. Others may consider Charlotte’s Web and be concerned that today’s farms look very different. Yet others may think of how those poor little pigs are treated. When I think of pigs, tasty pork comes to mind; I know the pig’s purpose is to provide us with products such as pork chops, loins and in some cases, insulin. I also look at pigs as value-added corn – and fertilizer in the making. But I realize I have a very different frame of reference than “normal” people.
Since my frame of reference involves walking to a barn each day, I have a very different perspective than my friends who have never set foot in a pig barn. Nursery rhymes, Charlotte’s Web or Babe may be their only frame of reference. And while each of those is a classic, they are not a solid frame of reference on today’s pork production.
Enter Fair Oaks Pig Adventure…an immediate opportunity to change people’s reference point on all things pig. Where else can you look inside barns, interact with a pig on screen, see technology used to keep pigs comfortable, dance with pigs on the floor, or ride on a pig statue? If you want to know if your family should visit or not, the quick answer is yes.
Thanks to Sam Wildman, a hog farmer and agricultural communications student from Ohio, I visited Fair Oaks Pig Adventure with a meat scientist on one of the first days it was open to the public. While I was excited to see the facility after getting updates from Indiana Pork for the last few years, I was more intrigued to watch the visitors. It’s fascinating to see what drew their interest, listen to the questions they ask and chat with staff about what they hear from visitors (and don’t hear).
My most lasting impression? People thought the pigs looked happy, believed the animals were well cared for and had few concerns once they saw modern technological farming with their own eyes. Visitors enjoyed watching pigs go through automatic feeders, were amused by their animal behavior and asked questions when they saw something they didn’t understand.
Belstra Milling, who partnered with Fair Oaks dairy farm to add the Pig Adventure to the dairy fun in northern Indiana, took great care to demonstrate different types of housing (group and stalls), show pigs throughout their life cycle and keep it all very real. It’s not an amusement park; it’s a realistic andfun look at pigs. Tip of the hat to the leaders who made the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure a reality!
My big take home? It makes a world of difference when agriculture can change people’s reference point. Getting an inside look at a barn, talking with the farmers who care for the animals and being able to ask questions changes the average person’s reference point from concern to understanding. The farm is no longer a mysterious place hiding what they’re doing to the animals with concerns about how they’re caring for the environment or why all the modern looking technology. When people see it with their own eyes, they trust it – particularly when they can have a conversations with animal experts.
Can every farmer open up their farm? No. It’s not safe for the animals, nor is it always practical. However, everyone in agriculture has an opportunity to change a reference point of “normal people” by talking about what you do. You can take people on an adventure by sharing pictures. And if nothing else, you can tell them something a simple as this (my favorite sign of the day)…